Syria’s north is tar­get of mil­i­tant of­fen­sive

Is­lamic State strikes Kobani and Hasaka in at­tacks seen as a bid to blunt the ad­vance of Kur­dish- led forces.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Nabih Bu­los Bu­los is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

AMMAN, Jor­dan — Is­lamic State f ighters on Thurs­day at­tacked Kobani, the Syr­ian town on the Turk­ish bor­der they be­sieged for months be­fore be­ing re­pulsed in Jan­uary by Kur­dish mili­tias as­sisted by pun­ish­ing airstrikes from a U. S.led coali­tion.

The Kobani strike was part of a multi- pronged Is­lamic State of­fen­sive tar­get­ing Kur­dish- dom­i­nated ar­eas of north­east­ern Syria. The mil­i­tants also struck the city of Hasaka, jointly con­trolled by gov­ern­ment forces and the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units, a Kur­dish mili­tia also known as the YPG.

The f ight­ing in Kobani left at least 35 dead and 55 wounded, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a pro- op­po­si­tion Bri­tish- based mon­i­tor with a net­work of ac­tivists in Syria.

The Is­lamic State of­fen­sive was seen as a bid to blunt the ad­vance of Kur­dish- led forces to­ward Raqqah, the mil­i­tant group’s de facto cap­i­tal in Syria. The mil­i­tants launched their at­tack on Kobani with a car bomb near the Mur­sit­pinar bor­der cross­ing into Tur­key, killing about a dozen civil- ians, Ocalan Isso, deputy de­fense min­is­ter of Kobani, said in a phone in­ter­view.

In the en­su­ing chaos, the mil­i­tants, dis­guised as YPG f ighters, in­fil­trated the town, also known as Ayn alArab, and com­man­deered a school, toss­ing hand grenades and de­ploy­ing snipers on the roof, Isso said. But he said that Kur­dish forces had sur­rounded the build­ing and that the Is­lamic State f ighters were cut off from any re­in­force­ments.

No of­fi­cial ca­su­alty f ig­ures were re­leased, but Kur­dish ac­tivists up­loaded dozens of im­ages on so­cial media de­pict­ing the civil­ians killed and wounded in the vi­o­lence. They also re­ported two other car bomb­ings later in the day and con­tin­u­ing clashes in eastern parts of the city.

The Is­lamic State mil­i­tants also over­ran the vil­lage of Barkh Botan, about 20 miles south of Kobani, killing at least 20 civil­ians and wound­ing 15, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

The of­fi­cial Syr­ian Arab News Agency, or SANA, re­ported f ierce clashes in Hasaka, with gov­ern­ment troops bat­tling an Is­lamic State in­cur­sion in a western neigh­bor­hood. No ca­su­alty f ig­ures were pro­vided, but the Is­lamic State- af­fil­i­ated Aa­maq News Agency said about 70 sol­diers were killed in the at­tacks.

Ac­tivists said thou­sands of civil­ians had aban­doned their homes and f led the fight­ing.

The latest Is­lamic State of­fen­sive raised ten­sion over the role of Tur­key, which fears the Kur­dish of­fen­sive just across the bor­der in Syria could fan sep­a­ratist sen­ti­ment among its own Kur­dish mi­nor­ity. Tur­key views the YPG as a proxy for the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party, which waged a decades- long in­sur­gency against the gov­ern­ment.

Isso ac­cused Tur­key of be­ing com­plicit in the at­tack on Kobani, charg­ing that Is­lamic State fight­ers en­tered Kobani from Turk­ish ter­ri­tory

Turk­ish of­fi­cials dis­missed that claim, say­ing they pos­sessed “con­crete ev­i­dence that there was no cross­ing from the Turk­ish side,” ac­cord­ing to the news ser­vice Agence FrancePresse.

Last week, Kur­dish- led forces routed Is­lamic State f ighters who al­most a year ear­lier had seized the bor­der town of Tal Abyad.

That of­fen­sive, backed by coali­tion airstrikes, cut off Is­lamic State’s main sup­ply route to Raqqah, about 50 miles south. It also gave Kur­dish forces an op­por­tu­nity to con­sol­i­date con­trol of two ar­eas in north­east­ern Syria, as well as open­ing a cor­ri­dor to Iraqi Kur­dis­tan.

Else­where in Syria, 51 rebel fac­tions op­er­at­ing in the south­ern province of Dara an­nounced a cam­paign to wrest con­trol of ar­eas of Dara city from the gov­ern­ment. SANA re­ported that an at­tack by “ter­ror­ists,” the gov­ern­ment’s stan­dard de­scrip­tion of rebel fac­tions, had been thwarted, with f ighter jets pound­ing op­po­si­tion tar­gets in sur­round­ing vil­lages.

The news agency also de­nied that the rebels had taken con­trol of the strate­gic Dara- Damascus road, one of two main highways link­ing south­ern Syria to Damascus, the cap­i­tal and seat of power of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The rebel op­er­a­tion was spear­headed by fac­tions as­so­ci­ated with the South­ern Front, a coali­tion of so­called mod­er­ate fight­ers.

If suc­cess­ful, it would grant the rebels a rear sup­ply base to mount oper­a­tions on Damascus, a scant 59 miles north, as well as cre­at­ing a con­tigu­ous zone of rebel con­trol stretch­ing from Quneitra province, bor­der­ing the Is­raeli- held Golan Heights, to the out­skirts of the Druze city of Suwayda.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory put the death toll at 14 on the rebel side but did not give ca­su­alty fig­ures for civil­ians or gov­ern­ment forces.

The bat­tle for Dara city comes af­ter a re­cent string of im­por­tant gains for the South­ern Front. Op­po­si­tion ac­tivists claim the bat­tle­field suc­cesses are the re­sult of an in­tense three- month pe­riod of sup­ply and ar­ma­ment for the coali­tion from a lo­gis­tics hub in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal, Amman, staffed by op­er­a­tives from a num­ber of in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, in­clud­ing the CIA.

I lyas Aken­gin AFP/ Getty I mages

REL­A­TIVES of vic­tims gather out­side a hos­pi­tal in Su­ruc, Tur­key, af­ter a sui­cide blast across the bor­der in Kobani, Syria. Mil­i­tants launched their at­tack on Kobani with a car bomb that killed 12 peo­ple, an off icial said.

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