Syrian regime forces and the allied Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah drew closer late Friday to al-Bab city, the last remaining significant stronghold of the Daesh movement in northern Syria, a monitoring group said.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces made "an important and strategic advance by taking the village of Abu Taltal" in the southern sector of al-Bab.
"The regime forces are now 1.5 kilometres from al-Bab city," the monitoring group said.
Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, are vying with government forces for control of al-Bab.
Opposition rebels and Turkish forces jointly launched a major attack Tuesday on the western sector of the city, 30 kilometres south of the Turkish border, the Observatory said.
Turkey launched a cross-border operation in August in Syria, but the offensive stalled around al-Bab, with Daesh forces putting up heavy resistance.
Turkey and its rebel allies now share a lengthy frontline with Syrian government forces and loyalist militias. Damascus sees the Turkish military's control of nearly 2,000 square kilometres in Syria as an occupation.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said that the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led coalition, was pressing Daesh forces around the Islamist group's de facto capital, al-Raqqa, and cutting off supply routes to isolate the city.
"The constriction of Raqqa is starting," US Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.
He said there was no timetable to take the city "but it's something we know is urgent."
Earlier Friday, one of the leaders of a hardline jihadist alliance, which includes the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, baulked at talks aimed at ending Syria's conflict of almost six years and vowed to continue fighting.
"Peace negotiations and conferences will not close the page on the revolution," Hashem al-Sheikh, head of the recently created militant bloc, the Levant Liberation Body, said in his first video recording.
He vowed to step up attacks against Syrian government forces and their allies.
"The [alliance] seeks to lead the military and political action of the Syrian revolution in order to fulfil its aims of toppling the regime and liberating the Syrian lands."
Al-Sheikh is an ex-commander of Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative Islamist movement that has been locked in fighting in recent weeks against the Fatah al-Sham Front in northern Syria.
Last month, the Fatah al-Sham Front unified ranks with four rebel groups, including the powerful Noureddine al-Zinki movement.
Fatah al-Sham and the Daesh extremist militia are excluded from a shaky ongoing ceasefire in Syria.
By Weedah Hamzah
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