The Syrian army also looked poised to advance into the Islamic State-held province of Raqqa for the first time since 2014, apparently to pre-empt any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces into Syria to fight the jihadist insurgents.
A Syrian military source said the army captured positions at the provincial border between Hama and Raqqa in the last two days and intends to advance further.
“It is an indication of the direction of coming operations toward Raqqa. In general, the Raqqa front is open … starting in the direction of the Tabqa area,” the source said.
Tabqa is the location of an air base captured by Islamic State two years ago, and the source said the army had moved to within 35 km (20 miles) of the base.