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Syria war: Islamic State advances in Deir Ezzor, scores dead

IS captures eastern areas of the embattled eastern city from government troops in fighting that killed more than 80
A Syrian army soldier takes aim in the government sector of the town of Houwayqa, which is besieged by Islamic State (IS) group, in the northeastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor on 12 November 2016. (AFP)

Fighting between the Islamic State group and the Syrian army has killed more than 80 fighters and civilians since Saturday in Deir Ezzor, where the militant group has launched an assault to capture a government enclave, reports say.

At least 82 people have been killed in the fighting, which is the heaviest in the city for a year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

The dead comprised 28 from the army and allied militia, at least 40 Islamic State fighters, and 14 civilians, the British-based monitoring group said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the army had killed dozens of Islamic State fighters in attacks on the group's positions around Deir al-Zor.

However according to Kurdish news service ARA News, IS captured several areas in the east of the city, forcing government forces to evacuate a military headquarters.

“The regime’s troops were forced to evacuate their headquarters under heavy ISIS bombardment. Both Bagheliya and Tallat al-Brouk are now under ISIS control,” media activist Ahmed Ramadan told ARA News from the city.

Using car bombs and rockets, IS militants seized the Sakan al-Jahiziya neighbourhood on the Deir Ezzor–Damascus highway from the National Defence Forces (NDF), Ramadan said.

“Pro-regime troops escaped the neighbourhood to avoid further losses in manpower and equipment, heading towards western Deir Ezzor,” he added.

The besieged city is only accessible by military helicopters since IS took over part of the city in July 2014 and besieged the government sector since January 2015.

The government has retained control of the airport and neighbouring districts in the city, located in eastern Syria on the Euphrates river.

While world attention has been on Aleppo and Damascus, IS has made renewed advances in the country's east where its forces in Syria are concentrated. Last month it recaptured the city of Palmyra, 185km southwest of Deir Ezzor, from the government in an unexpected advance that demonstrated its continuing military threat.

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