Syrian army advances against ISIS in Aleppo province: State media, monitor

Syrian government forces firing artillery against the Islamic State group on May 16,  in the town of Maskaneh.
Syrian government forces firing artillery against the Islamic State group on May 16, in the town of Maskaneh.PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - The Syrian army and allied forces captured the last major town held by the Islamic State group (ISIS) in Aleppo province on Sunday (June 4), state media and a war monitoring group said.

State-run news agency SANA said army units made strategic gains in the rural east of the province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said government forces entered the town of Maskaneh after weeks of heavy fighting.

The advance brings Russian-backed government forces to the border of Raqqa province, which is largely under the control of US-backed militias also fighting ISIS.

A Syrian military source said the army "restored security and stability" to Maskaneh and nearby positions. Troops also regained large generators that power a main water pumping station, the source said. The army had retaken the water plant from ISIS in March.

ISIS militants have been holed up in desert areas in the south-east corner of Aleppo, now their only presence in the province. Syrian government forces control Aleppo city and much of the province's east, while rebel groups hold swathes of its west.

The town of Maskaneh lies on the western banks of the Euphrates river in Aleppo province, some 10km from the provincial border with Raqqa. The next major urban centre across the border to the east is Tabqa, which the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured from ISIS in May.

The United States has so far ruled out cooperating with the government in the fight against ISIS in Syria, where separate military campaigns have forced the extremist group into retreat.

ISIS militants still control tracts of Syria's eastern deserts and most of Deir al-Zor province bordering Iraq, but they have been on the back foot over the past year.

With the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian army has been stepping up attacks on ISIS in the eastern Aleppo countryside.

The Syrian army said on Saturday that it seized mountainous territory from ISIS east of the road that links Damascus to Aleppo, a critical lifeline for the government that has often come under militant attack.