At least 26 Syrian soldiers have been reportedly killed, by Islamic State militants, west of the captured city of Palmyra.
Islamic State fighters killed 26 Syrian soldiers on Monday west of Palmyra, a monitoring group said, after days of advances by government forces backed by Syrian and Russian air cover.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the Syrian army would soon recapture Palmyra from Islamic State, which has held the desert city for nearly a year.
Palmyra has both symbolic and military value as the site of ancient Roman-era ruins – mostly destroyed by the hardline Islamist group – and because of its location on a highway linking mainly government-held western Syria to Islamic State’s eastern stronghold.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting took place about 4 km (2 miles) west of Palmyra.
The death toll could not be independently verified.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the army and allied forces, backed by the Syrian air force, carried out “concentrated operations” against Islamic State around Palmyra and the Islamic State-held town of al-Qaryatayn, about 100 km further west.