(Reuters) Syrian and allied forces, backed by Russian air strikes, entered the Islamic State-held town of al-Qaryatain on Sunday, having gradually surrounded it over the past few days, state media and a monitoring group said.
l-Qaryatain is 100 km (60 miles) west of Palmyra, which government forces recaptured from Islamic State last Sunday.
The town has been held by the militant group since late August.
Syrian state media said government forces entered from a number of directions. A Syrian military source told SANA state news agency the army now controlled the northern district and was clearing the area of explosives planted by Islamic State.
Islamic State militants retreating from Palmyra laid thousands of mines which the Syrian army is now clearing before civilians can return.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting continued between Islamic State and government forces in al-Qaryatain, which is surrounded by mountains.
“Practically speaking, the town can be said to have fallen militarily, because the regime controls the surrounding hills,” the Observatory’s director Rami Abdurrahman told Reuters.
The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the five-year-old Syrian conflict through a network of sources on the ground, said more than 40 air strikes by Russian and Syrian planes hit areas near the town on Sunday.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Dale Hudson)