AMMAN - Hundreds of Syrian troops, backed by tanks, thrust into the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Wednesday, opposition activists said, calling it a major offensive to root out rebels in the capital of the oil producing province on the border with Iraq.

Rebel sources said that in the last week fighters operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella attacked roadblocks and tanks along the road from Deir al-Zor to the Iraqi border, killing or wounding dozens of troops, and destroying several tanks and armored personnel carriers.

Large swathes of the province have fallen into rebel hands in the past few months as alliances between the ruling elite, from the Alawite minority, and the Sunni tribes collapsed, leaving Assad's army with stretched supply lines, opposition sources and diplomats said.

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