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Syrian forces consolidate military gains

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(17 Sep 2017) Government troops and their allies intensified an offensive on Friday against Islamic State group (IS) militants in central Syria, trying to consolidate their control on the area.Syrian troops and Russian military police patrolled the dusty and desolate streets of Okeirbat, which was recaptured from the extremists on 2 September.A militant counteroffensive was crushed on Thursday amid intense Russian airstrikes.The militants had controlled Okeirbat since 2014, and Russian military officials showed visiting journalists a bombed-out warehouse that was used by the extremists to repair and fortify tanks in the once-thriving town of 10,000 people, the largest held by IS in Hama province.The fight for Okeirbat, which lies on a strategic route linking western Syria to IS strongholds in the east, reflects the group's desperation to retain its presence in Hama province in central Syria.It also shows the determination of the government of President Bashar Assad to uproot the group from the area, which had been a launching pad for attacks.The Russian military has provided extensive air cover for Assad, Moscow's longtime ally, in the civil war.It sought to portray the capture of Okeirbat as a major breakthrough, helping an offensive in which Syrian government forces broke a siege by IS militants on the strategic city of Deir el-Zour only two weeks ago.The area is important because it is near villages loyal to Assad.Earlier this week, the extremists shelled the government stronghold of Salamiyeh that is home to members of the minority Ismaili sect, a branch of Shiite Islam.Okeirbat was the last stop on the media tour, designed to show the strength of Russia's role in Syria, including its naval and air power.You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/you... Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork

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AP Archive 4116450 089f8dca8e709d29a02c76789b0a96ed Syria Fighting Bashar Assad Russia Eastern Europe Syria Middle East Government and politics General news Business
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