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Blast at explosives factory in Syria kills 25 IS fighters, says monitor

Major blast at explosives plant in eastern Syria comes after opposition gains in northwest, first appearance of IS in south this week
Jihad Army, widely understood to be supportive of IS, made gains in southern Syria this week (Twitter/@hxhassan)

Twenty-five fighters from the Islamic State group were killed when a powerful blast rocked an explosives manufacturing plant in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province, a Syria monitor said late Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was accidental or the result of a missile strike, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"A strong explosion took place this evening in an IS explosives factory in the town of Al–Mayadeen in the province of Deir Ezzor," the monitoring group said.

"Several other explosions followed, shaking the whole town. Twenty-five IS fighters were killed, around 20 others were injured," it added.

The Islamic State group controls most of the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq.

But government forces still hold parts of the provincial capital and small pockets of areas in the eastern part of the country of less strategic significance.

The militant group, which has blitzkrieged its way through much of the east and north of the country, has also made gains for the first time in southern Syria this week. 

On Tuesday morning, Jihad Army, a group widely understood to be supportive of IS, fought against Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Nusra Front in the countryside of Quneitra, adjacent to border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

This week has also seen questions raised about the strength of the Syrian government after rebels seized the city of Jisr al-Shughur in Syria's Idlib province on Monday.

The fight in the northwestern province saw militias, often at odds with one another, cooperating and organising in the battle. 

Some analysts have attributed the coordination between the groups to a change in Saudi Arabia's foreign policy under King Salman.

“Iran and getting Iran is the most important thing and [King Salman] has prioritised it above attacking the Brotherhood,” said Joshua Landis, editor of Syria Comment and director of the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies.

One FSA commander, who spoke to MEE on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Jihad Army's emergence in the south as an IS affiliate may be connected to the opposition's advances in the Idlib.

With the government visibly weakening and on the retreat, IS would have a battle on just one front - against the broader opposition – instead of two. 

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