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Syrian army pushes IS out of last stronghold in Homs

Syrian regime forces have seized the key town of Sukhna in Homs from the "Islamic State" (IS), opening the way to a besieged pro-government garrison. The jihadists also face an attack in their de facto capital of Raqqa.

The town was captured after heavy artillery shelling and Russian air strikes, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday. The central town of Sukhna is some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the ancient city of Palmyra.

Earlier on Saturday, state news agency SANA said that the Damascus forces attacked the city from three sides. However, the government did not immediately confirm that Sukhna was taken.

Road to Deir el-Zour

Sukhna is the last major urban stronghold of the IS militia in Syria's Homs province. Its capture marks a key strategic victory for the pro-government forces as it clears the way for them to aid their allies under IS-siege in the city of Deir el-Zour. The Islamist militia controls most of the province and parts of the city, and has kept some 200,000 people living in government-controlled areas since early 2015.

Syria's Deir el-Zour province borders Iraq, and links the IS' de facto capital of Raqqa with IS-controlled areas in Iraq.

The "Islamic State" has been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, faced with the onslaught from US-backed Kurdish and Iraqi forces, as well as with pro-Damascus forces backed by Russia. It was recently routed from its long-held stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defense Forces now control more than half of the Syrian metropolis of Raqqa, which serves as de-facto capital for the "Islamic State."

dj/bw (AFP, Reuters)

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