Syrian forces close in on ISIS-held Palmyra

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syrian government forces seized highland around Palmyra Wednesday, positioning themselves to recapture the ancient town held by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The army advanced from the west and south of Palmyra and was also closing in on the ISIS-held town of Qaryatain in central Syria, Homs governor Talal Barazi said.

"There is continuous progress by the army from all directions," he said, adding that he expected "positive results" over the next few days.

Syrian opposition activists also reported that the army was now approaching the outskirts of Palmyra, which has been under the firm control of ISIS since the extremists captured it last May. Government forces have been backed by intense Russian airstrikes in their advances.

In Geneva, where indirect peace talks have been taking place, Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar Jaafari said that he had been handed a proposal by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura which he said the government would study in Damascus and respond to during the next round of negotiations, tentatively scheduled for April.

It was not clear if this meant government negotiators were pulling out of talks before they officially adjourn Thursday.

Negotiations have been held up over the question of President Bashar Assad's role in any political transition to wind down the five-year conflict. The opposition has said Assad must step down as a precondition to any transition, while the government has refused to discuss Assad's departure. The U.N. envoy said yesterday the two parties had not yet arrived at discussing the matter.