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Islamic State's capitals in Iraq and Syria 'must fall' in 2016: France

Monday brought mixed fortunes for the militants who clawed back ground in Syria but lost out in Iraq's Anbar
Shia Iraqi militias try to retake town of al-Bashir, near Kirkuk, from the Islamic State group on 10 April 2016 (AFP)

The Islamic State group strongholds in Syria and Iraq "must fall" this year, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday.

We must make this "year a major turning point in our struggle against the so-called Islamic State" and recapture both Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, he told reporters during a trip to Baghdad.

The two cities fell to IS in 2014 and have since become the group’s de facto capitals in the two war weary countries.

The announcement came as the militants suffered setbacks in Iraq but managed to recapture al-Rai, a key town near the Turkey-Syria border that fell to rival rebel groups last week. The IS resurgence appears to have prompted swift retaliation from Turkey which launched artillery strikes on IS positions, Turkish media said.

Turkish artillery fired shells from howitzers positioned on its border region of Kilis, the privately owned NTV television station reported.

Meanwhile, more than one rocket fired from the Syrian side of the border hit the centre of a Turkish town, a Turkish government official told AFP.

The official did not say who fired the rockets that slammed into the centre of Kilis - the main town in the province of the same name - near the Syrian border and left more than four people wounded.

Neither the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front nor IS are included in a truce that was brokered by the United States and Russia, and which came into force on 27 February. In recent days the truce has effectively been broken in the northern parts of the country.

Across the border in Iraq, security forces pushed Islamic State fighters from the western city of Hit, authorities told the Washington Post.

Security officials told the paper that they had raised the Iraqi national flag above the city and defused booby traps, although some clashes were still being reported in certain neighbourhoods.

Pro-government forces had been fighting since March to retake the city some 450 kilometres west of Baghdad and some 100 kilometres northwest of Ramadi.

The offensive is part of a wider drive to retake the western Anbar province in south-western Iraq, although a similar move to push the militants from Mosul in the north that began last year has been slow to get off the ground. 

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