ISIS loses two key Syrian towns to government forces

Heavy aerial bombardment supported the ground assault against the two ISIS-held townsReuters

ISIS have received another setback in Syria after government forces and allied militia captured two towns in the west of the country.

State media and local activists said the military, backed by heavy Russian bombardments, had taken control of Mheen and Hawwarin, two towns to the southeast of Homs city. A large number of ISIS militants died in the heavy fighting.

The two towns lie to the east of the north-south highway running through Syria's major cities that is crucial to control of mainly government-held territory in the west of the country. They are also close to roads that link the Islamic State-held city of Palmyra in the central Syrian desert to western cities.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group said Syrian and Russian aircraft had launched a series of strikes on the two towns ahead of the ground assault.

Russia, a main ally of President Bashar al-Assad, started carrying out air strikes in Syria nearly two months ago in support of the Syrian army and allied ground forces.

The West has accused Moscow of mainly targeting rebels unaligned with Islamic State during the campaign which started on Sept 30. Last week Russian and Syrian aircraft bombarded Islamic State-held areas of eastern Syria.

In a separate development today, civilian flights faced disruption in the middle east as a result of Russian missile strikes in Syria, the BBC reports.

Airports in northern Iraq have been closed for two days and flights to and from Beirut are being diverted because of the path of cruise missiles launched by Russian ships in the Caspian Sea.

Additional reporting from Reuters.