Syrian army sweeps across Islamic State held territory south of Raqqa  7/18/2017 6:20:56 AM 
By: AFP | Damascus | Published:July 18, 2017 11:50 am
Syrian Democratic Force fighter, Syria, Syrian Democratic Force sweeps across southern part of IS stronghold in Raqqa clearing the region from the grasp of extremist jihadists. (Source: AP)

Syrian government forces have swept across the territory south of Islamic State group stronghold Raqqa, capturing a string of villages and oil fields from the jihadists, state media said. The landscape south of Raqqa city strategically borders several provinces, Aleppo to the west, Homs to the south and Deir ez-Zor —much of which is still held by IS—to the east.

State news agency SANA said  that the government loyalists had scored significant gains against IS in the area. “Over the past two days, army units recaptured a number of villages and oil fields in western parts of Deir ez-Zor province and southern parts of Raqqa,” the agency said. It added that “dozens” of IS vehicles had been destroyed and that a number of jihadists, including some foreigners, had been killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said today the government advance was backed by heavy Syrian and Russian airstrikes. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of SOHR “Regime forces have captured between 1,500 and 1,800 square kilometres in Raqqa province over the past 48 hour.” He went on to add that troops were approaching the strategic region of Jabal al-Bishri, a mountain chain straddling parts of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Homs provinces. “If the regime captures it, it can take control of all those areas,” Abdel Rahman said.

Since 2014, Raqqa city has served as the de facto capital of the caliphate’s territory in Syria, and US-backed fighters are currently battling jihadists inside the city. Rival Syrian government troops have also chipped away at IS fighters in the border province.

Last month, regime forces targeted the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance west of Raqqa. The Pentagon downed a Syrian jet in retaliation. More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

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