ISIS militants capture major Syrian air base in northeast

Smoke rises during what activists said was an air raid by warplanes operated by forces of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad around al-Tabqa military base at a government-controlled airport that is surrounded by militants, west of Raqqa city, August 21, 2014. (Reuters)

Activists say fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured a major military air base in northeastern Syria, eliminating the last government-held outpost in an area dominated by the extremist group, the Associated Press reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the militants broke through the Tabqa air field’s defenses Sunday and routed the government forces.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says some army troops also withdrew from the base, and the ISIS group is now in full control of the facility.

The SANA state news agency confirmed that the government had lost the air base, saying troops "are successfully reassembling after evacuating the airport."

Clashes kill 500 Syrian soldiers, militants

Meanwhile, more than 500 Syrian soldiers and ISIS fighters died in Raqa after clashes, the Observatory said.

The Observatory said 346 militants and 25 Syrian troops had been killed in the fighting at the airport since last Tuesday, with another 170 soldiers dying during fierce fighting on Sunday.

“One hundred and seventy Syrian soldiers were killed on Sunday in the offensive which led to the ISIS militants seizing Tabqa airport,” the Observatory said in an email to AFP.

Syrian state television said troops had staged an “evacuation” of the airport.

“After heavy fighting by the forces defending the Tabqa airport, our forces implemented a regrouping operation after the evacuation of the airport,” the broadcaster said in a breaking news alert.

The airport was the last military position under army control in Raqa, after jihadists captured Brigade 93 and Division 17, killing dozens of soldiers, many of whom were beheaded.

Last Update: 18:33 KSA 21:33 - GMT 18:33