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Syrian army attacks Islamic State targets in eastern desert area

Syrian media says military undertook air strikes against IS in al-Sukhna, an area between Palmyra and Deir Ezzor
Al-Watan said the Syrian air force mounted 'a number of air strikes targeting Daesh movements in the eastern Badiya' (File pic - AFP)

The Syrian military has mounted air strikes against Islamic State (IS) fighters and clashed with the group in central Syria, the pro-Damascus al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The flare-up in the area of al-Sukhna, between Palmyra and Deir Ezzor, on Monday points to the foothold IS still has west of the Euphrates even as US-backed fighters are poised to seize its last enclave east of the river.

The Syrian air force mounted "a number of air strikes targeting Daesh [IS] movements in the eastern Badiya, specifically on one of the dirt roads leading to the town of al-Sukhna and southeast of the town," al-Watan said, citing a military source.

The Syrian army recaptured al-Sukhna from IS in 2017 as it pushed the group's fighters back across central Syria in an advance along the crucial desert highway from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

However, some IS fighters remained in the rugged desert areas around the highway and have carried out attacks on army positions and convoys, a pro-Damascus source has said.

Baghouz assault slowed down

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been laying siege to IS's last enclave east of the Euphrates, the village of Baghouz, for several weeks.

The SDF said on Monday they had slowed their assault on the village because more civilians, previously thought to have been completely evacuated, were trapped in the enclave. They promised to capture Baghouz soon.

More than 2,000 people were evacuated on Wednesday from Baghouz, according to a military source in SDF.

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More than 6,500 people were evacuated over the previous 24 hours, including hundreds of surrendering fighters, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said on Tuesday, after the SDF opened a corridor for them to flee.

It was not possible to independently verify the numbers and SDF officials also said it was difficult to estimate how many people were left.

"For the second consecutive day our forces had succeeded in evacuating more than 3,500 between women, children and men. There were more than 500 men mostly from foreign nationalities," Bali told Reuters. Around 3,000 were evacuated on Monday.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson said that in addition to the nearly 1,000 foreign fighters held by the SDF, there were thousands of other suspected IS fighters from Iraq and Syria held by the US-backed group.

The IS fighters hail from a number of countries including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

While IS's defeat at Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against the group, it is expected to remain an insurgent threat inside Syria and Iraq.