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Syria troops enter key ISIL-held town of Al-Sukhna

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 28/07/2017
Fighters from Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) walk past damaged buildings in Raqqa [Rodi Said/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Fighters from Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) walk past damaged buildings in Raqqa [Rodi Said/Reuters]

Syrian government troops entered the last ISIL stronghold in the country's Homs province on Friday after fighters began withdrawing, a monitor said.

Al-Sukhna, some 70 kilometres northeast of the famed ancient city of Palmyra, is the last town on the road to the eastern city of Deir Az Zor, where a government garrison has held out under siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) since early 2015.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, earlier reported clashes on the city's outskirts and said government troops were firing artillery and rockets at ISIL positions.

By early evening, the monitor said government forces had entered the southwestern part of the town.

"The ISIL organisation has carried out successive withdrawals from the town," it added.

"Regime forces have line-of-fire effective control of the town after the withdrawals," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

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He said the streets were reportedly empty, but it was unclear if pockets of ISIL fighters remained.

Since May, Syria's army has been conducting a broad military campaign with Russian support to recapture the vast desert that separates the capital Damascus from Deir Az Zor and other towns along the Euphrates Valley.

Assault on Raqqa

An assault on ISIL's stronghold of Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led fighting coalition backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, began on June 6.

Since then, the SDF has made steady advances from the eastern and western sides of the city, reaching the walled old quarter. 

Already defeated in its Iraqi bastion of Mosul, ISIL is facing multiple assaults in Syria.

Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIL, said 45 percent of Raqqa was under the control of the SDF. 

Meanwhile, senior UN humanitarian official Ursula Mueller told the UN Security Council by video from Jordan on Thursday that an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people remained in Raqqa.

She said the city was encircled and "there is no way for them to get out".

Since April 1, over 200,000 people have fled their homes in the area around Raqqa, she said. The figure includes more than 30,000 displaced just this month as US-backed Syrian fighters try to overthrow the fighters.

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