Syrian army intends to advance into ISIS stronghold of Raqqa province: Source

Militant Islamist fighters in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province in a 2014 file photo.
Militant Islamist fighters in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province in a 2014 file photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - The Syrian army intends to advance into ISIS-held Raqqa province having captured positions at the provincial border of the militants’ stronghold, a Syrian military source said on Saturday.

A move into Raqqa province would reestablish a foothold for Damascus in a region where it has had no presence since August 2014, and complicate any attempt by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to the area to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The military source who was briefed on the matter said the operation had been going on for a number days.

The army had captured several positions from ISIS at the provincial border between Hama and Raqqa in the last two days.

“It is an indication of the direction of coming operations towards Raqqa. In general, the Raqqa front is open... starting in the direction of the Tabqa area,” the source said.

Tabqa is the location of an air base captured by ISIS in 2014.

The army had moved to within 35km of the base.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, earlier reported the army’s had advanced to the provincial borders of Raqqa.

Saudi Arabia, which wants Assad gone from power, has said it would be willing to send in troops as part of any US-led ground attack against ISIS.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday he expected Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send commandos to help recapture Raqqa.

US allied Kurdish militia are also fighting ISIS in Raqqa province, advancing into the province from the northeast last year with help from US-led air strikes.