The Syrian Army and its allies yesterday were fighting the Islamic State’s last pocket in central Syria after taking the heavily defended village of Uqairabat on Friday, a war monitor reported.
The enclave lies close to the main road running between the cities of Homs and Aleppo near the town of al-Salamiya and has been the site of intense fighting for months.
Evicting the militant group from the area is viewed as necessary to improve security on the road.
The Syrian Army, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iran-backed Shiite militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has advanced deep into eastern Syria this year against the Islamic State.
It is pushing to relieve its besieged enclave in the city of Deir al-Zor, one of the cities on the Euphrates River to which the Islamic State has fallen back after losses in Syria and Iraq, but has left the pocket in central Syria in its rear.
Late on Friday, a military media unit run by Hezbollah said the army had captured Uqairabat, which it described as the Islamic State’s stronghold in that region.
The war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the army and its allies had also taken other villages in the area, aided by Russian helicopters, and reported that intense fighting continued.
Meanwhile, a convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families being evacuated into territory the group holds in east Syria remained in government-held areas of the nation, US-led forces said.
“It has not managed to link up with any other ISIS elements in eastern Syria,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State.
There are about 300 fighters and about 300 civilians in the convoy, which the Syrian army and Hezbollah granted safe passage after they surrendered an enclave on Syria’s border with Lebanon.
However, the coalition against the Islamic State has used airstrikes to block the convoy from crossing into the group’s main territory straddling Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
The Islamic State fighters in the border pocket accepted a truce and evacuation deal after simultaneous, but separate offensives by the Lebanese army on one front and the Syrian army and Hezbollah on the other.
It angered both the coalition, which does not want the fighters bussed to a battlefront in which it is active, and Iraq, which is fighting the Islamic State across the border.
“We are continuing to monitor that convoy and will continue to disrupt its movement east to link up with any other ISIS element and we will continue to strike any other ISIS elements that try to move towards it,” Dillon said.
The coalition has asked Russia to tell the Syrian government that it will not allow the convoy to move further east to the Iraqi border, the coalition said in a statement.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave prayers on Friday for Islam’s Eid al-Adha celebration in the town of Qara, near the enclave surrendered on Monday by the Islamic State fighters.
Confined to Damascus for long periods in the early part of Syria’s six-year civil war, al-Assad has grown more confident in traveling through government-held areas as the army and its allies have won a series of victories.
Al-Assad was shown on state television standing and kneeling on a carpet in a packed mosque alongside Syrian religious leaders as he followed the imam giving prayers.
The departure of the Islamic State and other groups from the Qalamoun District means the border with Lebanon is Syria’s first to be controlled entirely by its army since early in the conflict.
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