BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s army and its allies raced towards their enclave in Deir al-Zor after a rapid advance on Sunday, seeking to relieve it after years of Islamic State siege as jihadist defenses suddenly collapsed.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has focused this year on the campaign in Syria’s desert, striking eastwards in a multi-pronged assault to restore Deir al-Zor, where Islamic State has held half the city and all the land around since 2014.
Sunday’s advance brought the army and its allies to about 10 km (6 miles) from the city, said the a military media unit run by the army’s ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah group. On Friday, it reported the army was still 30 km (19 miles) away after capturing Jebel al-Bashri.
A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the army had advanced even farther, reaching the border of the besieged garrison’s army camp on the western edge of Deir al-Zor.
Intense fighting is taking place as the army attempts to break through Islamic State lines to join up with the besieged garrison, the Observatory reported.
Syrian state television reported that Islamic State was in a state of collapse in the face of the army’s progress. A Syrian military source had said on Saturday the army had also advanced eastwards from Sukhna, on the main road between Damascus and Deir al-Zor, along a parallel route of attack.
Pro-government forces are also fighting to eradicate a large Islamic State enclave they left to their rear in central Syria as they advanced towards Deir al-Zor.
Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Cooney