Syria troops advance against ISIS in Homs province

AFP , Monday 23 Nov 2015

The Syrian army recaptured a town and village in the central province of Homs from the Islamic State militant group on Monday, state media and a monitoring group said.

"The army in cooperation with Popular Defence groups (pro-regime militias) took control of Maheen and Hawareen in the southeast of Homs province after inflicting heavy losses on Daesh," state television said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the army's advance, which it said had been backed by Russian warplanes and military helicopters.

The Observatory also reported that regime forces advanced Monday in a mountainous area north of the coastal city of Latakia, heartland of the minority Alawite sect to which Syria's ruling clan belongs.

The monitor said the government forces gained ground in Jabal Zahi and Jabal Zweik after fierce fighting with Islamist rebels, while Russian warplanes provided air cover.

Syria's state run news agency also reported advances by regime troops in Latakia, where the Observatory says they have been gaining ground over the past week.

The recapture of Maheen comes after it was overrun by ISIS on November 1.

Previously, a ceasefire had been in force under which rebel factions remained inside the town but government forces manned checkpoints around it.

ISIS forces launched their assault on Maheen from neighbouring Al-Qaryatain, which the group captured earlier this year, kidnapping hundreds of civilians and destroying ancient Christian sites.

The army advance now puts Al-Qaryatain, which is just 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Maheen, in their sights.

Elsewhere in Homs province, the Observatory said government forces were advancing on the outskirts of the ancient city of Palmyra, which ISIS captured in May.

Since seizing the famed city, ISIS has destroyed many of its UNESCO World Heritage sites, including ancient temples, drawing international condemnation.

The latest advances come nearly two months into a Russian air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow says its air strikes target ISIS and other "terrorists", but rebels and their backers say moderate and Islamist opposition fighters have borne the brunt of attacks.

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