BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces are marching toward the last town held by the Islamic State group in the central province of Homs in the latest push by President Bashar Assad's troops against the extremists, state media and opposition activists said Thursday.
The capture of Sukhna would pave the way for government forces to march toward the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where IS has been besieging a government-held part of the city for nearly three years. Syrian troops have also advanced against IS in the north, evicting the extremists from Aleppo province.
The extremists are meanwhile fighting to defend their de fact capital, Raqqa, from U.S.-backed and Kurdish led forces, which have captured four neighborhoods since launching an offensive in the northern Syrian city last week.
"Continuous achievements to defeat terrorism," state TV said, referring to government forces' capture of about 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) from the extremists since the beginning of the year.
Last week, Syrian troops reached the Iraqi border for the first time in years and are now waiting for pro-Iranian forces to link up with them on the other side.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces and their allies are within 25 kilometers (16 miles) of Sukhna, which has been held by the extremists since May 2015.
Syria's state news agency, SANA, said troops are advancing deep into the desert area near the historic central town of Palmyra. The agency said government forces captured the so-called "Arak Triangle," which links the town of Sukhna and Arak to a major oil pumping station.
"All fields from T4 to Arak have been liberated," a Syrian army office told state TV, referring to an army air base in Homs province known as T4.