IS forces Syrian soldiers from town
Islamic State fighters drove Syrian government forces from a town in the west of the country yesterday, as fighting looked set to intensify despite a flurry of international diplomacy and talks between regional rivals.
The jihadists' advance came even as Russian warplanes and Syrian forces supported by them stepped up assaults against insurgents in west and northwest Syria, and the United States separately sought to increase pressure on Islamic State.
The fighting tempered any expectation of progress towards a political solution to the four-year civil war, with warring sides and their foreign backers refusing to back down in a conflict where the world's major military powers, except China, are directly involved.
Washington said last week it would, for the first time, station ground troops in Syria to advise and assist rebels fighting Islamic State.
Talks between world powers in Vienna, meanwhile, adjourned with calls for a nationwide ceasefire, but key differences remained between rivals backing opposing sides.
In a fierce assault that began by detonating two suicide car bombs, IS militants took the town of Maheen in the southwest of Homs province from government forces, a group monitoring the war said.
Some 50 fighters on the government side were killed, and clashes raged afterwards on the outskirts of a nearby mostly Christian town, Sadad.
IS confirmed the advance, which brought it within 20km of the north-south highway linking Damascus to Syria's other main cities - Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
Government and Russian air strikes have been targeting IS fighters near an airbase they have long besieged, east of Aleppo city.
IS also faces an offensive launched by a new US-backed rebel alliance in the northeast province of Hasaka, closer to its strongholds of northern Syria and northwestern Iraq.