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US-backed forces in Syria advance on last IS-held territory

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters gather with their vehicles at a position near the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. (Photo by Bakr Alkasem/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S.-backed forces battling Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria are reported to have advanced into the last area the extremist militants control.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said on March 2 that they were advancing on two fronts at Baghuz in the province of Deir al-Zor.

Zana Amedi, an SDF commander, told the AP that “an active ground force” is advancing into IS-held territories as the extremists resort to sniper fire and booby traps.

AP reports that two helicopters for the U.S.-led coalition were seen circling the area of fighting around noon on March 2. A loud explosion later was heard from a distance and thick black smoke billowed into the sky, apparently a coalition air strike.

The SDF on March 1 resumed military operations to liberate the last piece of territory held by IS in Deir al-Zor after evacuating thousands of civilians and hostages who had been besieged inside.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on February 28 that the IS has lost “100 percent” of the territory it once controlled in Syria, but officials estimate there are hundreds of militants left in the small patch of territory in Baghuz, and that they will likely fight till the end.

In a separate development on March 2, a Syrian war monitor and a news agency of an Al-Qaida-linked group say militants have shot dead eight men suspected of being IS fighters in Syria’s Idlib Province.

Ebaa news agency, which is linked to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, said the executions were in response to an IS suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Idlib a day earlier. Ebaa said the men were shot dead in front of the restaurant where the attack occurred.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the shootings outside the restaurant.

Although IS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham subscribe to hard-line jihadist ideology, they have opposed each other for years.