by WorldTribune Staff, June 3, 2016
Syrian forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have launched their largest offensive against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) since retaking the historic city of Palmyra in March.
The new front was opened on June 3 in ISIL-held territory in eastern Hama province, near the boundary with Raqqa province.
The Syrian offensive is the third of three large campaigns recently launched against key ISIL-held strongholds. Iraqi forces have started an offensive to liberate Fallujah, while a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab coalition is advancing on the self-declared ISIL capital at Raqqa.
The Syrian army has advanced within 20 kilometers (13 miles) of the Raqqa provincial boundary, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A pro-Damascus Lebanese newspaper said the offensive was part of “the race for Raqqa” – with the government of President Bashar Assad and its Russian allies seeking to advance on the city before it falls to the fighters allied to the Americans.
A Syrian military source downplayed the report, saying Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, another ISIL-held city in eastern Syria, were merely possible targets.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said on June 3 that the Kurdish-Arab alliance, (Syria Democratic Forces) were advancing against heavy resistance from ISIL in the Manbij area. The alliance is seeking to liberate 40,000 civilians from ISIL control in Manbij.
In Fallujah, Iraqi forces have held their positions for four straight days without advancing into the main built-up areas of the city as ISIL has proven a “tough nut to crack,” an Iraqi official said. The assault would go slow to protect thousands of civilians still trapped in the city, the official said.