Assad's army setting its sights on Isis stronghold of Raqqa

The Syrian army's advance towards Raqqa could be aimed at pre-empting any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to Syria to fight Isis.

Samuel Osborne
Sunday 14 February 2016 10:43
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Syrian government soldiers celebrate after taking control of the village of Ratian, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, from rebel fighters on 6 February, 2016
Syrian government soldiers celebrate after taking control of the village of Ratian, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, from rebel fighters on 6 February, 2016

Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes have taken rebel ground near Aleppo and are now poised to advance on the Isis stronghold of Raqqa province.

A Syrian military source said the army had captured positions at the provincial border between Hama and Raqqa in the last few days and intends to advance further.

"It is an indication of the direction of coming operations towards Raqqa," they said. "In general, the Raqqa front is open ... starting in the direction of the Tabqa area."

Tabqa is the location of a Syrian air base captured by Isis two years ago. The source said the army had moved to within 20 miles of the base.

Syrian army tightens grip on Aleppo

Syrian state television announced the army and allied militia had captured the village of Tamoura, which overlooks rebel terrain northwest of Aleppo, on Saturday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported advances in the same area, while Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said government forces are now nearing the towns of Hayan and Anadan, which lie on the road to Aleppo city.

The Syrian army's advance towards Raqqa would re-establish the Syrian government's foothold in the province for the first time since 2014 and could be aimed at pre-empting any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to Syria to fight Isis.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces are backed on the ground by Iranian fighters and the Lebanese Hezbollah, in addition to Russian air power.

Talks in the German city of Munich on Friday saw world powers agree a temporary "cessation of hostilities" to start within a week, but there seemed to be little hope of a long-term truce after President Assad said his goal was to regain control of the entire country by force, warning it will "take a long time".

Additional reporting by agencies

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