World News

Syrian army rushes forces to historic Palmyra in IS battle

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army said it has sent reinforcements to Palmyra, where Islamic State fighters have advanced to its outskirts in some of the heaviest fighting since the group lost the historic city earlier this year.

The group had taken over areas to the northwest and southeast of Palmyra, and clashes continued on Saturday, the army said in a statement.

A rebel commander from the Jaish al-Mujahideen group based in the Aleppo countryside said the IS attack was forcing the Syrian government to divert troops from Aleppo, where the army and its allies are on the verge of a major victory against rebels.

The army did not specify where reinforcements were brought from.

Islamic State’s assault, which began late on Thursday, has killed dozens of Syrian soldiers and quickly taken over grain silos and control of some oil and gas fields around Palmyra, monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A statement by Islamic State’s Amaq online news agency said the militants had pushed towards Palmyra airport on the town’s eastern outskirts, which Russian forces have been using to support the Syrian army.

A U.S.-led coalition which is separately fighting against the jihadist militants said late on Friday it had carried out 168 IS oil tanker trucks near Palmyra in a large air raid.

Reporting by John Davison, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo, editing by Jeremy Gaunt