Turkish-backed opposition captures Dabiq from IS
BEIRUT >> Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces captured the symbolically-significant town of Dabiq from the Islamic State group on Sunday as government forces reversed recent rebel advances in the center of the country.
Though only a small town of marginal strategic importance in northern Syria, Dabiq has figured centrally in IS propaganda. Citing Islamic lore, the extremist group claims it will be the stage for an apocalyptic battle between Crusaders and an army of the Muslim caliphate that will herald doomsday.
Meanwhile, southwest of Dabiq, Syrian government forces pounded rebel-held districts in the contested city of Aleppo, culminating in a devastating airstrike on a residential building in the Qaterji neighborhood late in the evening that killed at least 25 people, according to the Civil Defense search-and-rescue outfit. Spokesman Ibrahim Alhaj said some families remain trapped under the rubble.
The Qaterji attack brought the death toll to 49 from strikes on opposition-run eastern Aleppo on Sunday, according to Al Haj.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group, which monitors the conflict through local contacts, put the toll from the Qaterji attack at no less than 15 civilian fatalities, and Sunday’s tally for the eastern portion of the city at 31 civilians.
Russian jets are also known to fly sorties over east Aleppo. Russia is a key backer of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s raging war.
In Dabiq, Islamic State fighters put up “minimal” resistance in defending the town, according to a commander of the Syrian opposition Hamza Brigade, before they withdrew south to al-Bab, which remains under IS control.
Saif Abu Bakr said some 2,000 opposition fighters pushed into Dabiq with tank and artillery support from the Turkish army. The commander said IS left the town heavily mined.
Both Turkish and international coalition warplanes conducted airstrikes on Dabiq and nearby Arshak, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The U.S. envoy to the coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, tweeted Sunday that the extremist group had promised a “final victory” in Dabiq, but that its fighters had instead “fled in defeat at the hands of Syrians supported by our @coalition.”
Government forces meanwhile sustained their push against rebels in the central Hama province after an ambitious monthlong campaign spearheaded by al-Qaida-linked insurgents ground to a halt amid factional infighting.
The rebels were within a few miles of the country’s fourth-largest city, also called Hama, when deadly clashes broke out among ultraconservative factions within the coalition.
The Syrian Army has capitalized on the fracture, retaking over a third of the territory it had lost over five weeks. On Sunday it announced it had retaken the strategic town of Maardes.
Members of a Turkish-backed Syrian opposition force patrol in Dabiq, Syria, on Sunday.