U.S.-backed rebels enter Deir al-Zor province for first time - Kurdish military source | Reuters

BEIRUT The U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance has crossed into Deir al-Zor province for the first time as part of an offensive against Islamic State, a Kurdish military source said on Tuesday.The advance into the province, which is almost entirely under the ultra-hardline group's control, is part of an operation to encircle and ultimately capture its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in the north of the country. One aim of the campaign is to cut IS's supply lines from Raqqa to Deir al-Zor province."Military operations of the SDF are now taking place within the provincial boundaries of Deir al-Zor, from the north - so, via southern Hasaka (province)," the Kurdish military official told Reuters.The SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia and Arab fighting groups, had captured some 15 villages from Islamic State militants in their incursion into the province, the source added. The source did not specify when this had taken place.

Islamic State controls Deir al-Zor province apart from a Syrian government-held enclave in Deir al-Zor city and a nearby military air base.A number of different groups in Syria's multi-sided conflict are fighting separate battles against Islamic State from various sides.

The SDF has recently advanced against IS to the north and east of Raqqa.Syria's army and its allies, backed by Russia, have been fighting back Islamic State assaults in Deir al-Zor city and engaged in clashes with the group further west.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, meanwhile, are fighting for control of the northern city of al-Bab, which monitors say is still mostly in Islamic State hands.That battle has brought the Turkish-backed rebels into close proximity with Syrian government forces, which had advanced towards the city from another direction before the rebels entered it. (Reporting by Tom Perry, writing by John Davison; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Hugh Lawson)

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 01:01:49 IST

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