Syrian army advances against Islamic State near Deir Ezzor
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Syrian army advances against Islamic State near Deir Ezzor

Monitor says regime forces pushing toward last IS-held town in Raqqa countryside

A picture taken on August 2, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group shows members of the Syrian government forces riding over a tank at a position in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
A picture taken on August 2, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group shows members of the Syrian government forces riding over a tank at a position in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)

BEIRUT — Syrian government troops advanced overnight against the Islamic State group in the country’s north and center, drawing closer to the key battleground of Deir Ezzor, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the army had made “significant progress” south of Raqqa city.

“There is now just four kilometers between regime forces and the town of Madan, which is the last town controlled by IS in the Raqqa countryside,” the Observatory said.

Madan lies next to the border between Raqqa province and Deir Ezzor, an eastern province that is mostly held by IS.

Jihadists have besieged government forces and civilians inside the provincial capital Deir Ezzor city since 2015.

Syrian loyalist troops are battling IS in the south of Raqqa province separately from an offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia that is fighting the jihadists inside Raqqa city.

The regime is also fighting IS in central Homs province, where overnight they captured the last jihadist-held town in the area, the Observatory said.

The capture of Al-Sukhna opens the route for government troops to advance towards Deir Ezzor on a second axis.

There was no official confirmation of Sukhna’s capture from Syria’s government.

State news agency SANA said the army had surrounded the town from three sides.

Since May, Syria’s army has been conducting a broad military campaign with Russian support to recapture the vast Badia desert region that separates the capital Damascus from Deir Ezzor.

The Observatory said at least 64 IS fighters were killed in clashes with the regime and air strikes across the Badia region on Saturday.

Among the dead were 30 killed in the fight for Al-Sukhna, the monitor said.

Already defeated in its Iraqi bastion of Mosul, IS is facing multiple assaults in Syria.

The SDF now control more than half of Raqa city, a key IS stronghold.

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