Syrian Army Crosses Boundary of IS Capital

Syrian Army Crosses Boundary of IS CapitalSyrian Army Crosses Boundary of IS Capital

The Syrian Army has crossed the boundary of Raqqa province, home to the de facto capital of the self-styled 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 IS in recent days after Iraqi forces attempted to storm a city and a Syrian militia advanced with US support. The three big offensives are some of the most aggressive campaigns against IS since it declared its aim to rule over all Muslims from parts of Iraq and Syria two years ago, Reuters reported.

Heavy Russian airstrikes hit IS-held territory in eastern areas of Syria’s Hama province, near the boundary of Raqqa province, on Friday when the army reached the edge of the province.

Raqqa city, further east, is IS’s de facto capital in Syria and, along with Mosul in Iraq, the ultimate target of those seeking to destroy the group.

The army was making its advances from the Athriya area of eastern Hama province, close to the provincial border with Raqqa. 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 IS militants had been killed along with nine from the Syrian and allied forces.

The influential pro-Damascus Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said on Friday the army operation did not aim to reach Raqqa city within the coming weeks, but was to reach Tabqa city and Lake Assad, which Taqba overlooks.

IS captured Tabqa in 2014 at the height of its rapid expansion in Syria and Iraq. Tabqa, the location of an air base, is some 50 km west of Raqqa city. The town is on a key route that links Raqqa with areas the ultra-hardline militants control in northern Aleppo.