Kur­dish-led forces drive ISIS from Syr­ian vil­lage

Rus­sians ac­cuse Bel­gium in deadly strike near Aleppo

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Sarah El Deeb

BEIRUT — Kur­dish-led forces in Syria are press­ing their cam­paign to drive Is­lamic State mil­i­tants from ar­eas in north­ern Aleppo prov­ince, ex­pand­ing the front line with ri­val Turk­ish-backed op­po­si­tion fight­ers also op­er­at­ing in the area, ac­tivists and rebels said Wed­nes­day.

The Rus­sian mil­i­tary ac­cused a U.S.-led coali­tion airstrike of killing six civil­ians in Has­sajek, hours be­fore the an­nounce­ment that the vil­lage had been taken from mil­i­tants.

While a brief lull is tak­ing hold in the di­vided city of Aleppo, most of the sur­round­ing prov­ince has be­come Syria’s hottest theater of com­bat, show­cas­ing the com­plex­ity of the ter­rain where ri­val forces are vy­ing for con­trol.

In the area of Has­sajek, three ri­val groups are bat­tling mil­i­tants: the Kur­dish­led forces, Tur­key-backed Syr­ian rebels and troops loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said the Kur­dish-led forces, known as the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, gained con­trol of Has­sajek, killing at least 10 Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in fight­ing there.

One of the fight­ing units in SDF, the Rebel Army, said in a state­ment that the clashes with mil­i­tants con­tin­ued for the third straight day fur­ther to the south. It said its troops also seized weapons and am­mu­ni­tion from the Is­lamic State, also called ISIS.

The ad­vance by the Kur­dish-led forces has widened the front line be­tween them and ri­val Syr­ian rebels, who in re­cent weeks A Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent truck makes its way Wed­nes­day in the rebel-held sub­urb of Douma, east of Da­m­as­cus. have pushed into north­ern Aleppo backed by Turk­ish tanks and air­craft, driv­ing out ISIS from vil­lages and towns it con­trolled.

The Tur­key-backed of­fen­sive also aims to un­der­cut Kur­dish as­pi­ra­tions for a con­tigu­ous and in­de­pen­dent east-to-west stretch of ter­ri­tory in Syria.

The Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Cen­ter in Syria said the strike in Has­sajek also wounded four peo­ple and de­stroyed two houses.

Rus­sian mil­i­tary surveil­lance spot­ted two Bel­gian F-16 fighter jets over the area at the time of the strike, the cen­ter said, adding that Rus­sian and Syr­ian war­planes were not fly­ing over the area. Rus­sia’s Tass news agency re­ported from Brus­sels that the Bel­gian de­fense min­is­ter de­nied Bel­gian air­craft had struck the area.

In Aleppo, which has wit­nessed some of the most in­tense aerial bomb­ing in the 51⁄ year Syr­ian con­flict, Rus­sian and Syr­ian war­planes halted their airstrikes Tues­day.

The lull was in prepa­ra­tions for a tem­po­rary pause in mil­i­tary ac­tions that Moscow has an­nounced for Thurs­day, to al­low civil­ians and mil­i­tants safe pas­sage out of the city.

The Rus­sian of­fer comes after a pro­posal by the U.N. Syria en­voy, Staffan de Mis­tura, to al­low al-Qaidalinked mil­i­tants to leave Aleppo in ex­change for a truce and a self-rule for the city’s east­ern dis­tricts. Rebels there, along with many res­i­dents, have re­jected the of­fer.

Bas­sam Heji, a mem­ber of the rebel group Nour el-Din al-Zinki, said the Rus­sian of­fer is a “trap” that only re­flects its in­ten­tion to “ex­ter­mi­nate” the res­i­dents of the east­ern, rebel-held Aleppo neigh­bor­hoods.

Rus­sia’s an­nounce­ment did not in­clude any prom­ises of an ex­tended cease-fire or a lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion in and around Aleppo.

Last month, a U.S.-Rus­sian-bro­kered cease-fire col­lapsed after last­ing less than a week.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said that since the col­lapse of the truce Sept.19, more than 640 peo­ple have been killed in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and the sur­round­ing ru­ral ar­eas.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said 88 peo­ple were killed in re­tal­ia­tory shelling on govern­ment-held Aleppo.

Moscow has blamed Wash­ing­ton for the Aleppo vi­o­lence, say­ing the U.S. failed to de­liver on its pledge to en­cour­age Syria’s West­ern-backed rebels to sever ties with al-Qaida mil­i­tants.

ABD DOUMANY/GETTY-AFP

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