Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der cleared of Is­lamic State

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue and Zeynep Bilginsoy

BEIRUT — Turk­ish troops and al­lied Syr­ian rebels ex­pelled the Is­lamic State from the last strip of ter­ri­tory it con­trolled along the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der on Sun­day, ef­fec­tively seal­ing the ex­trem­ists’ self­styled caliphate from the out­side world, Turkey’s prime min­is­ter and a Syr­ian op­po­si­tion group re­ported.

Also on Sun­day, Syr­ian pro- gov­ern­ment forces backed by airstrikes launched a wide of­fen­sive in the north­ern city of Aleppo, cap­tur­ing ar­eas they lost last month and be­sieg­ing rebel-held neigh­bor­hoods, state me­dia and op­po­si­tion ac­tivists said.

Turkey-backed Free Syr­ian Army rebels have cleared the area be­tween the north­ern Syr­ian bor­der towns of Azaz and Jarablus, said Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim.

“From Azaz to Jarablus, 91 kilo­me­ters (57 miles) of our bor­der has been com­pletely se­cured. All the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions are pushed back. They are gone,” Yildirim said, speak­ing at a din­ner with non- gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions in the south­east­ern city of Di­yarbakir.

The Free Syr­ian Army’s ad­vance shut down key sup­ply lines that the Is­lamic State used to bring in for­eign fight­ers, weapons and am­mu­ni­tion. The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said the Is­lamic State “has lost its link with the out­side world af­ter los­ing all bor­der ar­eas” with Turkey.

The Is­lamic State had oc­cu­pied the bor­der area even be­fore it de­clared its self- styled caliphate in June 2014, and it used the Turk­ish bor­der to bring in fight­ers from around the world. The group, which con­trols parts of Syria and Iraq, is now sur­rounded on all sides by hos­tile forces.

The loss of its ter­ri­tory along the Turk­ish bor­der fol­lows a se­ries of re­cent de­feats for the Is­lamic State, in­clud­ing its ex­pul­sion from the cen­tral Iraqi city of Fal­lu­jah and its de­feat in the for­mer strong­hold of Man­bij in north­ern Syria. Airstrikes by the U.S.led coali­tion have killed a num­ber of the group’s most prom­i­nent found­ing mem­bers and lead­ers.

In a state­ment, Turkey’s armed forces said that “the Jarablus-Azaz line has been con­nected.”

Turkey has long pushed for a safe zone in Syria be­tween these two towns, with a plan to house Syr­ian refugees there. Turkey hosts an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees.

Mean­while, the re­cap­ture and re­turn to siege of rebel-held parts of Aleppo dealt a ma­jor blow to in­sur­gent groups.

Sun­day’s push came a month af­ter in­sur­gents cap­tured sev­eral mil­i­tary acad­e­mies south of Aleppo and opened a cor­ri­dor into op­po­si­tion-held parts of Syria’s largest city and one­time com­mer­cial cen­ter. Since then, gov­ern­ment forces and their al­lies have been try­ing to re­cap­ture their losses.

State TV quoted an un­named mil­i­tary of­fi­cial as say­ing that troops are now in full con­trol of the mil­i­tary acad­e­mies south of Aleppo and are “chas­ing the rem­nant of ter­ror­ists.” It added that all roads link­ing rebel-held eastern Aleppo with op­po­si­tion ar­eas out­side the city “have been cut.”

The Ob­ser­va­tory con­firmed these gains.

BU­LENT KILIC/GETTY-AFP

Turk­ish tanks stand at the ready in the south­ern re­gion of Gaziantep on Satur­day dur­ing clashes with Is­lamic State fight­ers, who have faced re­cent de­feats in Syria and Iraq.

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