BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) – Syrian troops and allied militias entered the Islamic State-held town of Al Bukamal on Wednesday, state media said, edging closer to ousting the jihadi group from its last urban stronghold in the country.
The entry to Al Bukamal near the Iraq border follows a series of defeats for ISIS in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor and the capture of Raqqa further north.
“Army troops and allied forces broke through Daesh defences and entered Al Bukamal, waging fierce battles inside the town,” state news agency SANA reported, adding that the fighting would pave the way for Syrian troops to regain full control of the border town.
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) November 8, 2017
Syrian regime and allied forces, backed by intensive Russian air strikes, have steadily advanced on Al Bukamal from the north and west for several weeks, while Iraqi forces have closed in on the border area from the east and south, capturing the town of Al Qaim on Friday.
“The advance towards Al Bukamal came after army troops and their allies met up with Iraqi forces at the border between the two countries,” SANA said.
A source from a regime-allied militia told AFP that fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement had advanced to the southern edges of Al Bukamal. “Part of those units crossed into Iraq, with the help of Hashd al-Shaabi units, to circle around Al Bukamal and reach the northern side of the town,” the source added.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) November 8, 2017
Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) denied that its forces entered Syria on Wednesday, although last week a Kataib Hezbollah spokesperson said Hashd al-Shaabi units would enter Syria to battle ISIS in Al Bukamal.
The capture of Al Bukamal would cap a string of recent losses for ISIS, after Syrian forces with Russian air support took full control of Deir Ezzor city from ISIS on Friday. Government and allied troops have recaptured swathes of ISIS-held territory west of the Euphrates river, as well as from rebel groups across other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are battling ISIS east of the Euphrates, and have made rapid advances since the capture of Raqqa from ISIS, taking control of many of Syria’s largest oil and gas fields in its push toward the border.
UN says 120,000 people displaced
In recent weeks, an estimated 120,000 people have been displaced from Al Bukamal alone, said the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs coordination office in Damascus.
Tens of thousands have been displaced by fighting to oust IS from the area, many living in desperate conditions in desert camps.