Nine children are among 34 civilians killed in Russian air raids on Euphrates River ferries near Syria’s Deir Az Zor city.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Sunday that more than 40 ferries which had left the town of Al Boulil, south-west of Deir Az Zor, for the eastern shore of the Euphrates, were targeted in the Russian air strikes – a claim the Russians have yet to respond to.

The attack came in the wake of Syrian troops continuing their military offensive against the Islamic State (IS) under the protection of Russian air cover, Al Jazeera reported.

According to the War Media channel operated by Syrian government ally Hezbollah, Syrian troops seized full control of the 450km road linking the capital, Damascus, to Deir Az Zor, for the first time in four years.

“The Syrian army and its allies now control the entire international highway between Deir Az Zor and Damascus, through the cities of Al Sukhna and Palmyra,” it said, referring to other central Syrian cities recaptured from IS.

But it’s not only the Syrians, and their Russian backers, who are targeting the IS.

The United States is backing an alliance of Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters who are also on the move against IS in Deir Az Zor.

On Saturday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they had launched attacks to clear IS militants from areas east of the Euphrates, which cuts diagonally across the province.

On Sunday the SDF made a sweeping advance, capturing territory just kilometres from Deir Az Zor.

“They seized control of a hilltop seven kilometres from the eastern banks of the Euphrates,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of SOHR.

The rapid advancement of the SDF was attributed to the fact that eastern parts of Deir Az Zor are desert and not densely populated.

The momentum behind the motivation to capture Deir Az Zor from the IS is its strategic value and the fact it is oil rich.

The advance of both the SDF and the Syrian army, with their respective backers, represent a major blow for the IS which had held approximately 60 percent of the city and much of the surrounding province until now.

Since the beginning of the year the jihadists have lost significant territory in both Iraq and Syria as coalition forces in both countries up the ante against the group.

– African News Agency