BEIRUT, July 25 Fighters from al Qaeda offshoot
Islamic State killed at least 50 Syrian army soldiers and took
over parts of their base on Friday outside the northern city of
Raqqa, as the radicals escalated their attacks on government
forces, a monitoring group said.
Fighters from the ultra-hardline group captured and killed
at least 50 members of the army's 17th Division after ambushing
them outside Raqqa when they withdrew from the area where they
were based, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human
Raqqa is already a stronghold of Islamic State, which has
advanced in Syria and taken over swaths of territory in
neighbouring Iraq in what it has described as a bid to establish
an Islamic caliphate.
Since its lightning advance in Iraq last month, the group
has confronted government forces in Syria more frequently whilst
continuing to attack rival rebel groups fighting to oust
President Bashar al-Assad.
Raqqa is the only Syrian provincial capital to have fallen
completely outside Assad's control and Islamic State has paraded
military hardware through its streets.
A Twitter account linked to Islamic State also published
pictures of the beheaded corpses and heads of five soldiers
killed in Raqqa province, saying they belonged to the 17th
A separate video posted online on Friday appeared to show an
Islamic State fighter filming himself entering an abandoned part
of the base and tearing down images of Assad and Syrian flags.
The video, with the title "What is left of Division 17 in
Raqqa," in German, shows the fighter opening a refrigerator,
pulling out wine bottles and then pouring one of them on ground
outside in front of other armed men.
However, it was not immediately possible to verify the
contents of the video independently.
The Islamic State draws its strength in Syria from foreign
fighters and members sometimes post videos filmed in a mixture
of Arabic and other languages.
The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and
the Levant (ISIL), has mainly advanced in Syria by capturing
land from more moderate rebel fighters. But it is now clashing
more often with the Syrian military directly, and the army has
responded by stepping up aerial bombings on its positions.
Last week, Islamic State killed 270 soldiers, guards and
staff when it captured a gas field in central Syria, in one of
the deadliest clashes between the group and government forces,
according to the Observatory, an anti-Assad monitoring group
that tracks the violence using its sources on the ground.
Syrian soldiers also fought Islamic State militants outside
a government-controlled army airport in Deir al-Dor province in
the east of the country last Friday.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, editing by G Crosse)