Syrian army enters IS stronghold as Russian strikes kill 14 civilians

Syrian refugees gather for water at the Rukban refugee camp in Jordan's northeast border with Syria

Taking Mayadeen would mark another blow to the extremist group, which has lost wide areas of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate over the past year.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the army supported by Russian forces had reached the western edge of al-Mayadin, entering the ruins of a castle and an area of grain silos.

"They were crossing the river on makeshift rafts in a village south of Mayadeen", Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that three children were among those killed overnight.

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In June, two USA intelligence officials told Reuters that they believed Islamic State had moved most of its diminished command structure and propaganda team to al-Mayadin, southeast of its former capital of Raqqa.

Russia's military said on Thursday the leader of an al-Qaida linked militant group in Syria, who had been reportedly injured in a Russian airstrike, has fallen into a coma.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been advancing rapidly in a bid to expel the jihadists from the province.

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In June, two USA intelligence officials told Reuters that they believed Islamic State had moved most of its diminished command structure and propaganda team to Mayadeen, southeast of its former capital of Raqqa.

The Observatory said on Friday there were clashes in several areas in eastern Deir al-Zor province.

The Russian state RIA Novosti news agency quoted a Syrian army general as saying that the Syrian forces have fought their way into Mayadeen.

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Local news outlets said more than 380,000 people have left villages and towns around Deir Ezzor as a result of fighting between Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian government and their allies, and Islamic State.

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