BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s army and its allies have encircled an Islamic State (IS) pocket in central Syria after a series of advances in the desert region, state media, a Hezbollah military media unit and a war monitor said on Friday.
President Bashar al-Assad’s military has advanced against Islamic State along two prongs towards Deir al-Zor province this year, leaving a large jihadist salient stretching back west between them.
Its forces have now cut off part of that salient with a pincer movement, enclosing a large Islamic State enclave around the village of Uqairabat, the state news agency SANA reported.
The military media unit run by Hezbollah, a well-armed Lebanese ally of Assad in his more than six-year-old war with rebels and militants, said army units pushing southwards from Ithriya and northwards from Jebel Shaer had joined up.
Uqairabat is 37 km (23 miles) east of the town of al-Salamiya, near the only road through government territory to Aleppo, a route that has sometimes been closed because of fighting. Driving Islamic State militants out of that pocket would reduce pressure on the road.
The army has also made advances further east in recent days that could cut off more of the IS salient, according to the war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Islamic State is on the back foot in Syria, where Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a U.S.-led coalition have captured swathes of its territory in the north and are assaulting its former Syrian “capital” of Raqqa.
The jihadist group is now falling back deeper into the Euphrates valley region of eastern Syria.
Reporting by Angus McDowall; editing by Mark Heinrich