Syrian rebels have launched an attack on a town held by Islamic State near the Iraqi border, senior commanders say.

The attack has opened a new front against militants who also face an offensive from US-backed forces in the north.

If the rebel New Syria Army succeeds in capturing the town of Al-Bukamal from Islamic State (IS), it would hamper the jihadists’ ability to move between the Iraqi and Syrian territories of their self-declared caliphate.

Armed and equipped by the US-led coalition, the New Syria Army was formed 18 months ago from Arab rebels driven out of eastern Syria by Islamic State as it expanded its territories in mid-2014 following the capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

A commander on Tuesday said the rebels had secured the desert approaches to Al-Bukamal.

Another senior rebel source said they were now inside the town’s administrative boundaries after a rapid advance across sparsely inhabited desert from their main base further southwest in al Tanf.

The rebels had advanced close to a railway station nearly five km from the outskirts of the Euphrates River town, approaching mine-laden trenches dug by IS as a line of fortified defence, two rebel sources said.

The militants also cut internet and electricity services in the town, which IS has controlled since 2014, they added.

US-led coalition jets fired missiles at the town’s Aisha hospital used by Islamic State but intense aerial bombing had not begun yet, Abdul Salam Muzil, a senior member of the New Syria Army in touch with commanders on the front, told Reuters.

But another New Syria Army commander said the rebels would be relying on heavier air strikes in coming days to help them encircle the town, believed to have around 50,000 people.

‘This is a major gamble but we have been preparing for it for a long time. US logistical support and aerial support is key to the success of this operation,’ said the commander, who like others requested anonymity.

Reuters

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Syrian rebels have launched an attack on a town held by Islamic State near the Iraqi border, senior commanders say. The attack has opened a new front against militants who also face an offensive from US-backed forces in the north. If the rebel New Syria Army succeeds in capturing the town...