Government troops backed by Russian air strikes approach group’s de facto capital for the first time since August 2014.
The Syrian army has crossed the boundary of Raqqa province after advancing in a major Russian-backed offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Heavy Russian air strikes hit ISIL-held territory in eastern areas of Hama province, near the boundary of Raqqa, on Friday to facilitate the Syrian army’s advance, the UK-based SOHR said on Saturday.
“Regime troops backed by Russian air strikes and Russian-trained militia entered Raqqa province on Saturday morning,” Rami Abdel Rahman, SOHR’s director, told AFP news agency.
It was the first time that government troops had entered Raqqa province since they were ousted by ISIL fighters in August 2014.
Raqqa city, further east, is ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria and, along with Mosul in Iraq, the ultimate target of the anti-ISIL coalition seeking to destroy the group’s self-declared caliphate.
The Syrian army was making its advances from the Athriya area of eastern Hama province, close to the provincial border with Raqqa.
The Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River, 40km upstream from Raqqa city, is also the target of a separate offensive launched by US-backed Kurdish-led forces advancing from the north late last month.