Damascus: The Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes on Saturday unleashed a wide-scale offensive on a key city controlled by the Islamic State group near the recently- captured ancient city of Palmyra, a military source told Xinhua.
The Syrian ground forces succeeded in breaking through the IS defences in the western part of the predominantly-Christian city of Qaryatain, the military source said on condition of anonymity.
The Russian warplanes are playing a significant role in the battle for the recapture of Qaryatain, the source added.
The military campaign for retaking Qaryatain came less than a week after the Syrian army captured Palmyra, which had also been held by the IS.
Meanwhile, the state news agency SANA said the Syrian army and allied forces carried out “intensive attacks” against the IS positions in Qaryatain, which resulted in the military recapture of several key areas in that city’s surroundings, mainly in its western parts.
Citing a military source, SANA said the Syrian bomb squads also worked on dismantling booby-traps the IS militants had planted to thwart the progress of the Syrian forces toward that city.
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Qaryatain is the last stronghold of the IS near the mountainous region of Qalamoun, north of Damascus and close to the Lebanese borders.
The IS militants who withdrew from Palmyra have holed up in Qaryatain, which is 85 km southeast of Homs.
The city has strategic importance due to its proximity to the Syrian city of Qara, which is a stronghold of the Hezbollah Shiite group, which is fighting alongside the Syrian army on key battlefields in Syria.