|Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
Lebanon-Syria border: The Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah launched a joint operation against the so-called Islamic State on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier this week with the aim of expelling the militant group from its last border stronghold.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Thursday that the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies had captured more than 270 square kilometers [100 square miles] from ISIS on the Syrian side of the border since launching the operation on Saturday. He added that 40 square kilometers remained under militant control.
The Lebanese army launched a simultaneous but separate operation against ISIS on the Lebanese side of the border, and has captured more than two-thirds of the militants’ local territory. The extremist group now holds only a patch of territory on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, an area gradually falling under the army’s control.
ISIS is reportedly seeking an evacuation agreement that would grant fighters safe passage from the Lebanese border to militant-held areas in eastern Syria but the Lebanese army has ruled that out.
Deir Ezzor: Russian warplanes have carried out an intensified aerial campaign on Islamic State positions in eastern Syria this month with the aim of helping the Syrian government drive the jihadi group from one of its other last strongholds.
Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi said this week that Russian fighter jets had flown more than 900 missions, killed 800 ISIS militants and destroyed 40 armored vehicles this month alone, the Associated Press reported.
He added that Russian jets were now making 60 to 70 flights a day targeting ISIS militants coming from other areas to join the upcoming battle in Deir Ezzor.
Last week, a Russian airstrike targeted an ISIS convoy in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, killing at least 70 militants and destroying several armored vehicles, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops and allied fighters are pushing toward the militant bastion from two directions. Pro-government forces advancing south from Raqqa city joined up with their counterparts advancing from the east on Thursday, effectively surrounding ISIS in a large enclave in the Homs desert, according to Reuters.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are also gearing up for the battle against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. The head of the Deir Ezzor military council, which fights under the SDF, told Reuters on Friday that his forces would launch an attack on ISIS in eastern Syria within several weeks in conjunction with the battle for Raqqa city.
Raqqa: ISIS regained control this week of territory previously lost to pro-government fighters in the eastern countryside of Raqqa province.
In a counter-attack on Thursday, ISIS retook areas along the southern banks of the Euphrates river and positions near Raqqa’s provincial border with Deir Ezzor, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 34 Syrian troops and allied fighters were killed in the offensive.
Meanwhile, U.S. coalition warplanes continued to carry out intense air strikes on the city. At least 42 civilians, including 12 women and 19 children, were killed in an attack on Monday, according to the AP.
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that airstrikes and artillery attacks launched by the U.S.-led coalition on the city of Raqqa had killed hundreds of civilians over the past three months.
It also accused the Syrian government and Russia of carrying out “indiscriminate air bombardments against towns, villages and displaced people’s shelters full of civilians” south of Raqqa, on the southern bank of the Euphrates River.
“Civilians are thus trapped in the city, under fire from all sides, as the fighting intensifies,” the report said.
The following day, the United Nations called for a humanitarian pause in airstrikes to allow an estimated 20,000 trapped civilians a chance to escape the embattled city.