Syrian army retakes gas field from fighters

Photo: Syrian army retakes gas field from fighters
 / Arab World

The Syrian army has recaptured a gas field east of the central city of Homs that was seized by fighters from Islamic State earlier this month, according to state media and opposition activists.

Syrian television showed footage of soldiers running and deploying in a vast desert area which it said was the Shaer gas field in the desert region of Palmyra, Al Jazeera reported.

Mahmoud al-Homsi, an activist opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's government, confirmed to Al Jazeera via Skype from Homs that the army was now in control of the field.

The Syrian army, in a statement on Sunday, said it retook the field after a "precise operation in which dozens of terrorists were killed".

However, a source from the Islamic State said the fighters pulled out after destroying the gas field's equipment and capturing at least 15 tanks and dozens of rockets which were used to guard the facility.

"We pulled out because it was no longer good for us to stay. The goal was to get the tanks and rockets present at the field and we did," he told the Reuters news agency.

"There is no point in staying there and become an easy target for the regime and its warplanes."

Homsi told Al Jazeera that the recapture of the gas field dealt a blow to the Islamic State.

"The Shaer field is an important military base that the army used to protect nearby villages that are loyal to Assad," he said.

Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that Islamic State fighters were forced to withdraw as a result of intense shelling by regime troops.

The Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has advanced in Syria and taken over large expanses of territory in neighbouring Iraq in what it has described as a bid to establish an Islamic caliphate.

At least 1,100 soldiers and pro-Assad fighters have been killed since the Islamic State intensified its attacks against government forces this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

During the assault on the field, Islamic State fighters killed at least 270 soldiers, guards and staff and also killed at least 85 soldiers when they captured an army base in the province of Raqqa on Friday, the Syrian Observatory said.

The fighters said they decapitated most of the soldiers and hung several heads outside the base gates.

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