Syrian army chips away at ISIS on several fronts

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army take a break during battles against ISIS militants near the town of Qabasin, some 30 km from Aleppo, on January 8, 2017.

Syrian troops and allied militia on Sunday chipped away at territory held by ISIS militants on several fronts across the country, state media and a monitoring group said.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have doubled down against ISIS in Syria’s fractured north, as well as near Damascus and the ancient city of Palmyra. On Sunday, regime forces edged closer to the town of Al-Bab, the last remaining ISIS bastion in Aleppo province.

“Regime forces advanced and seized Owaisheh, a village east of Al-Bab,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. “They are hundreds of meters from the only route that IS has to access territory further east,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

They were backed by fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah and by Russian artillery, he said. Al-Bab, 25 kilometers south of the border with Turkey, is seen as a prize by nearly all sides in Syria’s complex war.

Government troops are approximately five kilometers from the town’s southern edges, but Turkey-backed rebels have already reached the edge of the town from the north. Assad’s forces were also locked in fighting on Sunday with ISIS in the central province of Homs.

Abdel Rahman said the troops had captured the Hayyan oilfield west of the celebrated desert city of Palmyra. State news agency SANA said “Syrian troops expanded their area of control” near Palmyra after clearing two villages of ISIS.

The militant group recaptured Palmyra late last year from government forces waging a fierce battle further north to take back Aleppo city. Syrian troops have refocused on ISIS since capturing Aleppo in the biggest victory for Assad loyalists since the conflict first erupted in 2011.

On Sunday, they also fought back against ISIS around Al-Seen military airport northeast of Damascus, the Observatory said.


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