Syrian government forces have reportedly cut off the last supply route connecting the ISIL-held city of al-Bab to militant strongholds further east, towards Iraq.
A military commander in the alliance backing President Bashar al-Assad said the jihadist group was now encircled.
The army is surrounding the south, while Turkish-backed rebels are advancing from the north in a race to capture ISIL’s largest stronghold in Aleppo province.
UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims troops have captured the Tal-Uwayshiya hill, some nine kilometres to the south-east.
ISIL ‘militarily on the defensive’
The UN has released a report urging governments to be vigilant of ISIL efforts to find new revenue streams. It says the group is militarily on the defensive and cited concerns journalists and aid workers travelling to areas recently recaptured from the jihadists could be targets for kidnapping.
“ISIL is militarily on the defensive in several regions, notably in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic,” the report read.
“The ability of ISIL to attract new recruits has diminished, and fighters are increasingly leaving the battlefield.
“The group continues to encourage its followers and sympathizers outside conflict zones to perpetrate attacks.”
Northern Syria is proving to be one of the most complex battlegrounds of the Syrian war. The Syrian Army, Turkey and its rebel allies and an alliance of US-backed Syrian militias are all fighting ISIL there.
Recent developments risk causing problems between the Turkish military and its allies, groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner. The FSA has been carrying out its own campaign to take al-Bab.
Astana peace talks
Turkey is among the countries currently in peace talks on Syria, taking place in the Kazakh capital. Russia, Iran and the United Nations have also sent experts to Astana to review the implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement.
Delegates began a technical meeting on Monday (February 6), Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed.
“Representatives of Jordan are expected to take part for the first time,” a spokesperson said.
On the agenda were discussions on a proposal from the Syrian armed opposition about the truce and determining options about how to implement it.
The Foreign Ministry said:
“This is about creating a mechanism to control the implementation of the ceasefire.”
No documents were signed at the meeting, however Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax quoted a Russian negotiator as saying delegates would meet up again in February and may sign an accord regulating the work of a joint task force.