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Syrian troops, ISIS face off in Raqqa - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—As Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters continued their push against a key Syrian government military base in eastern Syria on Friday, government troops were seen crossing the eastern desert in a bid to counter-attack, a pro-rebel source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

ISIS forces squared off against Syrian government troops in Syria’s central Raqqa province on Friday, seeking to capture a key strategic military base. ISIS claimed to have overrun the base and executed soldiers of the 17th Division stationed there, but local sources said that the Syrian government remains in control of key areas and is bringing in military reinforcements.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman said that fighting is ongoing in the area around the military base.

“ISIS fighters have not captured the headquarters of the 17th Division as has been claimed,” he said.

The base is home to 900 pro-government forces whose fate remains unknown, Abdul Rahman said.

Abdul Rahman said that the Syrian soldiers had likely withdrawn as a pretext to launching a subsequent attack after receiving reinforcements.

ISIS forces claimed to have killed at least 75 Syrian soldiers in the attack on the base, with other sources saying that the majority of the Syrian soldiers killed had been executed. An ISIS-affiliated Twitter account published images of beheaded corpses; an indication that the Syrian soldiers had been summarily executed after being captured, rather than killed during the fighting.

The ISIS assault on the Raqqa military headquarters represents a rare confrontation between the government and the Islamist militant group, which has predominately focused its efforts on fighting more moderate factions of the Syrian opposition. The Syrian government has come under increasing criticism for its failure to confront ISIS, which has announced the establishment of an Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq.