Beirut: The Islamic State group launched a fierce military assault Saturday in a bid to gain control of a strategic town in Syria`s northeastern Hasakeh province, a monitoring group said.
"IS has begun an offensive toward Tal Tamr and has advanced in several surrounding areas," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
"Kurdish fighters supported by Assyrian militia have fought them off in Tal Nasri," just south of Tal Tamr, leaving at least eight IS fighters dead, he said.
Assyrian Christian fighters withdrew from some areas to Tal Tamr itself to join Kurdish forces defending the town, said Osama Edward, head of the Sweden-based Assyrian Network for Human Rights.
"This is the most violent offensive on the town in a long time," he told AFP.
Since it began its onslaught in the province on February 23, IS has gained control of at least 10 villages around Tal Tamr, which lies about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the Turkish border and is currently under the control of Kurdish forces.
If Tal Tamr falls, IS would gain control of a key road in Hasakeh province that links to their bastion to the east in Iraq`s second city of Mosul.
In February, IS kidnapped 220 Assyrians from areas neighbouring the town, prompting 5,000 people to flee the countryside in fear of the jihadist advance.
So far, 23 of the kidnapped have been released in exchange for a "jizya," or tax paid by non-Muslims.
Before Syria`s conflict erupted in March 2011, there were roughly 30,000 Assyrians in the country, among a total Christian population of about 1.2 million.