Turkey-backed Syria rebels near IS bas­tion Al-Bab

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Syr­ian rebels backed by Turk­ish forces are two kilo­me­ters from the Is­lamic State group strong­hold of Al-Bab as they press Ankara’s Op­er­a­tion Euphrates Shield, a mon­i­tor said yes­ter­day.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said Turk­ish forces were tar­get­ing the town with ar­tillery fire and air strikes but it had no im­me­di­ate word on ca­su­al­ties. Al-Bab, about 30 kilo­me­ters from the Turk­ish border, has been a key tar­get for Ankara and its Syr­ian rebel al­lies since its cam­paign be­gan on Au­gust 24. “Op­po­si­tion factions backed by Turk­ish troops are two kilo­me­ters north and north­west of the town of Al-Bab,” said Rami Ab­del Rah­man, di­rec­tor of the Bri­tain-based Ob­ser­va­tory.

“This progress is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the cam­paign that be­gan with the cap­ture of Jarablus and has seen the ji­hadists ex­pelled from an area of 2,500 square kilo­me­ters along the border with Turkey,” Ab­del Rah­man said.

Ankara launched its un­prece­dented cross-border op­er­a­tion say­ing it was tar­get­ing both IS but also the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) mili­tia, which has been a key op­po­nent of the ji­hadist group.

Turkey con­sid­ers the YPG a “ter­ror­ist” or­ga­ni­za­tion, and wants to avoid the cre­ation of a con­tigu­ous, semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish zone along the Syr­ian border.

Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has said Ankara wants to cap­ture Al-Bab from IS and then push Kur­dish-led forces from the nearby town of Man­bij. Ab­del Rah­man said IS forces in Al-Bab were al­most sur­rounded. “The only route left open is the road to Raqa that runs south­east from Al-Bab through the (ji­hadis­theld) town of Deir Hafer,” he said. “The rebel forces are ad­vanc­ing be­cause of the sup­port from the Turk­ish forces and IS has with­drawn from sev­eral ar­eas with­out putting up a fight,” he added.

The Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces are cur­rently fight­ing an op­er­a­tion to cap­ture Raqa, IS’s Syr­ian strong­hold, with sup­port from the US-led coali­tion against the ji­hadist group. Wash­ing­ton’s co­op­er­a­tion with Syr­ian Kur­dish forces has an­gered Ankara, and Er­do­gan has said his troops and al­lied rebels in­tend to tar­get Raqa them­selves. — AFP

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