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Dozens dead in clashes between Syria government and IS, says monitor

At least 64 combatants have died in fighting between pro-Assad forces and IS in Raqqa province
A security checkpoint held by Syrian pro-government forces in the village of Khirbat al-Sa'ab, on the western outskirts of Raqqa province (AFP)

Fierce fighting between Syrian government forces and the Islamic State group has killed 64 combatants in Raqqa province over a 24-hour period, a monitoring group said Wednesday.

The clashes come with the army pressing an advance through Raqqa, in northern Syria, towards neighbouring Deir Ezzor, the only remaining province of the war-ravaged country still in the hands of IS militants.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor, said the fighting had claimed the lives of 38 militants and 26 pro-government combatants since Tuesday morning.

It takes to 145 the overall death toll in six days of fighting in villages on the banks of the Euphrates River in the east of Raqqa province, near Deir Ezzor.

IS said in a statement on Tuesday that its members had killed dozens of government combatants in "intense fighting lasting hours".

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the government was fighting to secure a foothold in Raqqa province "in order to advance in Deir Ezzor".

The militants have laid siege to government forces and civilians in the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor since 2015.

Earlier this month, government troops and allied fighters arrived at the outskirts of Madan, the last IS-held town in the countryside of eastern Raqqa province before Deir Ezzor.

But IS launched a counterattack last week that pushed the government forces back, and fighting has since continued.

The Syria army operation in the area, backed by air support from ally Russia, is separate from the battle for provincial capital Raqqa city.

The effort to oust IS from the city is being led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

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