Syria army, allies 'encircle' last IS-held town: state media

Syrian government forces walk in a district of Deir Ezzor on November 5, 2017, after retaking the city from the Islamic State group but jihadists still hold several villages in the province (AFP Photo/STRINGER)

Damascus (AFP) - Syrian troops and allied militiamen on Wednesday encircled the Islamic State group in Albu Kamal, the jihadists' last urban stronghold in the country, state media said.

"Army troops and allied forces have completely encircled Daesh terrorists in Albu Kamal and have begun operations to eradicate them from the town," state news agency SANA reported.

Albu Kamal lies on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

After a series of defeats in the province and the loss of IS's de facto capital Raqa further north, Albu Kamal is the only Syrian urban centre left in IS hands.

Syrian regime forces, backed by intensive Russian air strikes, have advanced on the town from the south and west for weeks.

And Iraqi forces have closed in on border area from the east, seizing the town of Al-Qaim from jihadists last week.

"The advance towards Albu Kamal came after army troops and their allies met up with Iraqi forces at the border between the two countries," SANA said Wednesday.

A source from the militias allied to Damascus told AFP that fighters from Lebanon's pro-regime Hezbollah movement had advanced to the southern edges of Albu Kamal on Wednesday.

"Part of those units crossed into Iraq, with the help of Hashed al-Shaabi units, to circle around Albu Kamal and reach the northern side of the town," the source added.

The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance has denied that its own forces entered Syria on Wednesday as part of the fight.

IS overran vast swathes of Deir Ezzor province in 2014 as part of its military sweep across Syria and Iraq, where it ran a self-styled "caliphate".

But the jihadist group has seen that territory shrink down to a small pocket along the Euphrates River, with Albu Kamal as its final hub.

Tens of thousands have been displaced by fighting to oust IS from the area, many living in desperate conditions in desert camps.

In recent weeks, an estimated 120,000 people have been displaced from Albu Kamal alone, said Linda Tom from the United Nations' humanitarian affairs coordination office in Damascus.