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IS seizes central Syrian town near key highway

Syrian opposition fighters are seen as they prepare to fight against IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 November, 2015

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Islamic State fighters seized the Syrian town of Maheen in Homs province from government forces on Sunday, a monitoring group said, expanding their presence in Syria's west.

Activists and Islamic State media say the militant group has seized a central Syrian town near a highway leading to the capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the extremist group captured Mahin in the central Homs province on Sunday after intense clashes with government forces.

     Russia and the Syrian government have been waging an air offensive against insurgents in the west and north west of Syria.

Mahin is 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of the highway that links the central province to Damascus. 

IS radio al-Bayan says the group also took control of large arms depots in the town.

The Observatory says IS militants have pushed their way west of Mahin, clashing with government troops outside the majority-Christian town Sadad. 

Russia and the Syrian government have been waging an air offensive against insurgents in the west and north west of Syria.

The Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said the attack might have been a response to pressures the group is under elsewhere.

"Daesh always looks for advances against the regime after failures in the areas it controls in northern Syria," he said, without referring to specific battles in the nrth, and using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

Government and Russian air strikes have been targeting IS fighters at an airbase they have long besieged in Aleppo province.

Fighting there has drawn support from Damascus ally Iran and killed an Iranian general several weeks ago.

Islamic State is also under pressure in the northeast province of Hasaka, after a new US-backed rebel alliance launched an offensive against the group near the Iraqi border.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry said American special operations troops being sent to Syria will only fight Islamic State militants and won't become involved in the long-running civil war.  

Kerry said IS was threat to every nation and  that US policy was clear; the group must be defeated.

Kerry did not rule out a further US escalation of the fight, saying he could not predict the future.

The Obama administration is sending up to 50 special operations troops to assist Kurdish and Arab forces in northern Syria. It's the first pledge of American military boots on the ground in Syria.

Kerry spoke Saturday at a news conference in Kyrgyzstan alongside the country's foreign Minister, Erlan Abdyldaev.


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