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Islamic State claim control of Tabqa airbase in Syria

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS fighters have entered Tabqa airbase, while the group itself says they have seized total control
The so-called Islamic State has launched several attacks on Tabqa airbase in recent days (AFP)

Islamic State (IS) militants advanced for the first time on Sunday into a military airport that is the last stronghold of the Syrian army in Raqqa province, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the group had launched a fourth attack in six days on Tabqa military airport overnight and entered the facility on Sunday morning.

"IS launched a new attack on the airport, which is the fourth since Tuesday," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory.

"They were able to enter it for the first time, but they don't yet control the facility," he added.

Analysts reporting on Twitter, however, have said IS are claiming to have taken control of the airport.

There was no immediate death toll in the latest fighting that began overnight, but at least 100 IS fighters and 25 government troops had been killed before the new clashes.

President Assad’s forces have repelled three previous attacks on Tabqa air base.

Government warplanes have backed forces on the ground and carried out six new raids on Sunday on different targets.

The battle for Tabqa began earlier this month, with IS launching its first major assault against the airport on Tuesday.

It is the last army stronghold in Raqqa, after militants captured Brigade 93 and Division 17 in the northern province, killing dozens of soldiers, many of whom were beheaded.

The army has airlifted reinforcements to the base and stepped up air strikes against IS positions across Raqqa, using both precision rockets and barrel bombs.

Raqqa has become the stronghold of IS, which controls the provincial capital and has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

The group initially fought alongside Syrian opposition groups, but its abuses sparked a backlash from rebels who pushed it out of parts of northern Syria.

In recent weeks, though, the group has advanced back into areas it withdrew from, including northern Aleppo province.

Elsewhere, however, the Observatory said IS fighters were withdrawing from parts of central Homs province.

The monitoring group said there was no official reason given for the withdrawal, but that the fighters appeared to be moving to areas under tighter IS control, including Deir Ezzor province in the east.

The Observatory said several areas in Homs that had been under IS control were taken over in the wake of the withdrawal by rival jihadist group Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.

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