The Assad regime’s army advanced into Raqqa province, the capital of Islamic State terrorist group, after a major Russian-backed offensive against the militants, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
The offensive is the third big assault on the terrorist group in recent days after Iraqi forces attempted to storm Falluja in central Iraq and a Syrian militia advanced with U.S. support towards Manbij in the north near the Turkish border.
The offensives are some of the most aggressive campaigns against Islamic State group (ISIS) since it declared its aim to rule over all Muslims from parts of Iraq and Syria two years ago.
Friday’s assault saw the Assad regime’s army reach the edge of Syria’s Raqqa province after heavy Russian airstrikes hit Islamic State-held territory in eastern areas of neighboring Hama province.
Raqqa city, further east, is Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria and, along with Mosul in Iraq, the ultimate target of those seeking to destroy the group.
State media said on Friday the army had made territorial gains and inflicted heavy casualties on the militants.
Syrian army spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
State media has given no indication of how many troops are involved in the offensive, or what weaponry they might be using.
The Observatory also had no comment about numbers or weapons, but said at least 26 Islamic States militants had been killed along with nine from the Syrian and allied forces.
The monitoring group said the army advance meant it was now almost 40 km from an area in which U.S. backed miliitas were also waging an offensive to isolate the militants’ strongholds in northern Aleppo from their territories east of the Euphrates river, where Raqqa city is located.
Turkish shelling kill 14 Islamic State militants in Syria
Cross-border shelling by the Turkish army and air strikes by U.S.-led coalition aircraft killed 14 Islamic State militants in Syria, state-run Anadolu Agency cited Turkey’s military as saying on Saturday.
Eleven Islamic State targets were hit by Turkish artillery and by nine air strikes as they were believed to be preparing to fire on Turkey, the armed forces was reported as saying. It was not clear when the military action occurred.
The strikes targeted several areas near the Syrian town of Azaz, west of a U.S.-backed operation against IS militants and directly south of the Turkish border town of Kilis, which has been repeatedly hit by Islamic State rockets.
Thousands of Syrian rebels supported by a small U.S. special operations team launched a major offensive on Tuesday to drive Islamic State from the “Manbij pocket”, further east near the Turkish border, which Islamic State has used as a logistics hub.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday the U.S.-backed offensive was largely being carried out by Arab rather than Kurdish fighters, in a sign of tacit approval for the operation.
The Syria Democratic Forces alliance includes the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey views as a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.