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Syrian Government Forces Recapture Key Border Crossing

A picture taken from video provided Nov 8, 2017 by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media shows shelling on militants' positions on the Iraq-Syria border.

Syrian government forces say they have recaptured the border town of Boukamal, the last major Islamic State stronghold in eastern Syria. Iraqi government forces recaptured the town of al Qaim, their side of the border crossing with Syria, several days ago.

A Syrian military spokesman said the army and its allies, including Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia, were involved in the effort to drive IS out of Boukamal. He said Islamic State militants fled the town after bitter fighting and were being pursued by government forces as they dispersed in several directions.

Syrian state TV showed government forces firing long range artillery at Islamic State militants fleeing into the desert. It is not clear how many IS fighters were in Boukamal before the Syrian army recaptured it.

Arab media reported there were some pockets of resistance. Pictures inside the town showed widespread destruction. The Syrian army spokesman said government forces were "demining roads and buildings booby-trapped by IS."

The Iraqi army and its Shi'ite militia allies recaptured the town of al Qaim on the Iraqi side of the border with Boukamal, several days ago. Saudi-owned al Hayat newspaper said many of the same Iraqi militia fighters, popularly called "al-Hashd," moved on to fight IS in Boukamal.

Professor Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA the recapture of Boukamal represents a major victory for regional power-broker and ally Iran.

"Now the Iraqis and Syrians have connected [at Boukamal], it means that the road has become wide open from Tehran to Beirut, and that represents a major victory for Iran in the Middle East."

Khashan went on to point out that Saudi Arabia and Israel are likely to be upset by the key strategic victory of Iran in the region and that both will be worried about Tehran moving weapons along its newly won corridor to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Syrian government claims the United States and Turkey are the main problem in the country. President Bashar al Assad's top media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban said Wednesday, in an interview with Lebanon's al Mayadeen TV, that "Turkish forces are on Syrian soil 'illegally,' in the same way that American forces are on our soil illegally."

U.S. forces are backing the Kurdish "SDF" militia, which has been battling Islamic State in the north and east of Syria.