Forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian airstrikes, are reportedly advancing towards the city of Raqqa, which has long served as the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Syrian government forces are also backed on the ground by Iranian fighters and Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah, based in Lebanon.
Assad’s forces “have taken rebel ground near Aleppo and are now poised to advance on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa province,” reports the Independent.
In the last few days, the Syrian army has seized positions at the border between the provinces of Hama and Raqqa and intends to push forward, Reuters learned from an Assad military source.
“It is an indication of the direction of coming operations towards Raqqa,” said the anonymous source. “In general, the Raqqa front is open … starting in the direction of the Tabqa area.”
“Tabqa is the location of a Syrian air base captured by Isis two years ago,” adds the Independent. “The source said the army had moved to within 20 miles of the base.”
On Saturday, the Syrian army and allied military conquered the village of Tamoura, which overlooks rebel territory near Aleppo, Syrian state television reportedly announced.
“The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported advances in the same area, while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said government forces are now nearing the towns of Hayan and Anadan, which lie on the road to Aleppo city,” notes the Independent.
“The Syrian army’s advance towards Raqqa would re-establish the Syrian government’s foothold in the province for the first time since 2014 and could be aimed at pre-empting any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to Syria to fight ISIS,” it adds.
Last week, a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s military said his country’s decision to deploy ground forces to combat ISIS in Syria was “final” and “irreversible,” despite warnings from Russia, Iran, and the Shiite-controlled government of Iraq that such a move could escalate the Syrian conflict.
During talks in Munich, Germany, last Friday, world powers agreed to temporary “cessation of hostilities” to start within a week.
However, a long-term truce seemed far-fetched after Assad said his goal was to regain control of Syria by force, warning that it will “take a long time.”
“Russia said on Saturday a Syria ceasefire plan was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took rebel ground near Aleppo and set their sights on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province,” reports Reuters.
“If [Assad] forces retake Aleppo and seal the Turkish border north of the city, Damascus would deal a crushing blow to the insurgents who were on the march until Russia intervened, shoring up Assad’s rule and paving the way to the current reversal of rebel fortunes,” adds the report.
United Nations-brokered peace talks were suspended earlier this month before they got off the ground.