Aided by Russia, Syrian forces consolidate military gains
OKEIRBAT, Syria - Government troops and their allies intensified an offensive Friday against Islamic State militants in central Syria, trying to consolidate their control on the area. The Syrian troops and Russian military police patrolled the dusty and desolate streets of Okeirbat, which was recaptured from the extremists on Sept. 2.
A militant counteroffensive was crushed Thursday amid intense Russian airstrikes. Distant thuds of artillery were heard in Friday afternoon and evening, indicating the persistence of the fighting.
The militants had controlled Okeirbat since 2014, and Russian military officials showed visiting journalists a bombedout 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.