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Syrian army breaks three-year 'Islamic State' siege in Deir el-Zour

Syrian state media has reported that government troops breached a nearly three-year siege by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in the contested city of Deir el-Zour, in another strategic and symbolic defeat for IS.

Syrian military forces backed by Russia broke a nearly three-year long IS siege on the government enclave of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, according to state media.

Following a months' long advance across IS lines, Syrian troops, advancing from the west, breached the siege after insurgent defenses collapsed, state news agency SANA reported. Troops went on to capture a military base, known as Brigade 137, which connects the northern part of Deir el-Zour via road with the rest of the city.

Read more: Syria civil war timeline: A summary of critical events

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad congratulated government troops, saying in a statement: "Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege on the city."

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The contested city, located near the Iraqi border, has been divided between IS and government forces since 2015.  Around 100,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the government-held enclaves, with food and medicine thought to be in very limited supply. Another 10,000 people are thought to be in parts of the city held by IS.

While the breach is expected to end the nightmare siege for many thousands of civilians, IS continues to control large parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province. The southern half of Deir el-Zour city, where a key government military airport is located, also still remains surrounded.

Troops backed by Russian missile strikes

Russia's Defense Ministry said that guided missiles fired from its frigate in the Mediterranean Sea struck key IS targets in Deir el-Zour as part of the Syrian army's advance.

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Drone footage showed that Russian missiles destroyed a communications center, command centers, and ammunition depots as well as killing an unspecified number of militants, according to the ministry.

Russia has long been a key ally of Assad's and it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.  

'IS' in retreat

The breach into Deir el-Zour marks the latest defeat for IS.

Last month, US-backed Iraqi forces captured the major and ancient Iraqi city of Mosul, which had been under IS occupation since 2014. The US is also providing military support to Syrian rebel forces as they attempt to take the rest of IS' self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, having already claimed more than half.

Read more: Iraqis wonder what will follow 'Islamic State' in Mosul

Deir el-Zour, to the southeast of Raqqa, has been completely cut off from government-held areas since 2013, after rebel groups first rose up against Assad, before being overrun by IS insurgents the following year.

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dm/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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