Turk­ish-backed op­po­si­tion cap­tures Dabiq from IS

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Philip Issa

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.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mem­bers of a Turk­ish-backed Syr­ian op­po­si­tion force pa­trol in Dabiq, Syria, on Sun­day.

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