The Syrian army has crossed the boundary of Raqqa province after advancing in a major Russian-backed offensive against ISIS militants, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war, said on Saturday. Heavy Russian air strikes hit Islamic State-held territory in eastern areas of Syria's Hama province, near the boundary of Raqqa province, on Friday and the army reached the edge of the province.
Raqqa city, further east, is Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria and, along with Mosul in Iraq, the ultimate target of those seeking to destroy the group's self-declared caliphate. The Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River, 40 kilometres (25 miles) upstream from Raqa city, is also the target of a separate offensive launched by US-backed Kurdish-led forces advancing from the north late last month.
"Regime troops backed by Russian air strikes and Russian-trained militia entered Raqa province on Saturday morning for the first time since August 2014,", Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.