Syrian government forces are closing in on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which has been besieged by so-called Islamic State for almost three years.
A rapid advance through the desert had brought troops to within 3km (2 miles) of the government-controlled enclave in the city’s west, state television said. They are also reported to have reached the edge of the nearby government-held Brigade 137 military base.
IS controls half of Deir al-Zour and much of its surrounding province.
It is the jihadist group’s last major stronghold in Syria, with the de fact capital of Raqqa under siege by a US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. An estimated 93,000 civilians are living in the government enclave in Deir al-Zour.
They have been dependent on supply flights by the Syrian military and air drops of aid by the United Nations, who last month said conditions were “extremely difficult”. The official Sana news agency cited provincial governor Mohammed Ibrahim Samra as saying that residents had celebrated on the streets on Sunday evening after learning that soldiers and pro-government militiamen were close.
“They are filled with joy waiting to welcome the heroes of the army, who are going to break the siege,” he said. The military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, whose fighters have played a key role in the advance towards Deir al-Zour, broadcast what it said was video footage of the celebrations.
It also reported that pro-government forces had taken control of hills in the city’s western countryside and cut off IS supply routes on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, later said that soldiers and militiamen had reached the edge of the Brigade 137 base and were battling militants inside.
“If the regime soldiers succeed, they will have broken the siege on the base and the neighbouring Deir al-Zour district of al-Jura,” he told AFP news agency. On Monday afternoon, the Hezbollah media unit and Syrian state television confirmed that troops had reached Brigade 137 and were only 3km away from breaking the siege of the city.