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Islamic State retakes Syrian town where report placed leader Baghdadi

Hezbollah unit says IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in Albu Kamal during Syrian operation to clear last urban hold-out
Syrian forces carry national flag in village of Suway'iah, near Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, on 10 November (AFP)

The Islamic State (IS) group recaptured the town of Albu Kamal in eastern Syria on Saturday after a fierce fightback to save the last urban bastion of its collapsing "caliphate".

A Hezbollah-run media unit had said on Friday that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported to have been in the town during the operation by the Syrian army and its allies to clear it.

The military unit did not say what had happened to Baghdadi, or give further details or identify its sources. The US-led coalition against IS said on Friday it had no "releasable information" on Baghdadi's whereabouts.

Syria's army had declared victory over IS on Thursday, saying its capture of the militants' last town in the country marked the collapse of their three-year rule in the region.

The militant group overran large areas of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, but its self-styled "caliphate" has since been whittled down to a pocket of land along the border between the two countries. 

IS is putting up a fierce defence there, particularly for Albu Kamal, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.  

Syrian regime forces and allied militia from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran overran Albu Kamal on Thursday but lost the town again just two days later after a string of IS counter-attacks and ambushes. 

"IS fully recaptured Albu Kamal, and regime forces and allied militia are now between one to two kilometres from the city limits," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, said on Saturday. 

The Observatory also reported 26 civilians killed, including nine children, since Friday night in artillery fire by government forces and Russian air strikes that hit villages and camps for those displaced by the fighting in Albu Kamal.

IS in Iraq

Across the border, Iraqi forces on Saturday seized several villages from the militants in an offensive to capture the last IS-held section of their country. 

The operation's commander, General Abdelamir Yarallah, said his forces captured Rumana and 10 other villages as they worked their way towards the Euphrates Valley town of Rawa, the last Iraqi town still held by IS. 

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