Russia says its jets helping encircle IS-held town in Syria

AP News
Posted: Aug 18, 2017 11:08 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian warplanes are supporting a Damascus government offensive against the Islamic State group in a town in central Syria, the military said Friday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Syrian army is now completing the push to encircle IS militants in the town of Akerbat in Hama province.

Syrian troops have seized key heights in the area, cutting off avenues of supply for the militants, according to the Russian statement. The militants have started fleeing the area in small groups, making their way toward Deir el-Zour, the largest city still under IS control, it said.

Russian drones are patrolling the area round-the-clock, directing air strikes, the ministry added.

Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces gain ground and achieve key victories.

Separately, the Russian Defense Ministry said its representatives signed a deal with Faylaq al-Rahman, a Syrian rebel group, to join a de-escalation zone agreement for Eastern Ghouta, an eastern Damascus. The deal was signed on Friday in Geneva and will go into force later in the day, the ministry said.

Last month, another rebel group in the area, Jaysh al-Islam, joined the de-escalation agreement.

The de-escalation zone in Eastern Ghouta is one of four proposed in a plan approved in May by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The plan includes a cessation of hostilities, a halt to Assad's air force flights over designated areas, and provisions for humanitarian aid access.