Daesh retreating to northern Syria under heavy pressure

Published June 9th, 2016 - 06:30 GMT
Syrian woman, who fled the assault in Manbij, talks to a Kurdish fighter at an encampment on the outskirts of the town, June 4, 2016. (AFP/File)
Syrian woman, who fled the assault in Manbij, talks to a Kurdish fighter at an encampment on the outskirts of the town, June 4, 2016. (AFP/File)

Syrian opposition forces backed by US airstrikes lifted Wednesday a siege on the frontline town of Marea in northern Aleppo province, pushing back Daesh fighters, a monitoring group said.

The rebels appear to have been helped by the wider offensive led by the Kurdish-dominated Democratic Forces of Syria (DSF) further to the east, which is placing heavy pressure on the Islamist militants.

The DSF offensive is focused on capturing territory in the so-called Minbij pocket, Daesh's last stretch of land along the Turkish border. Minbij city lies just 20 kilometres from the frontier. DSF forces say there are on the city's outskirts.

"The siege has been lifted on Marea," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa. Marea is a key part of a rebel-held enclave in Aleppo, a shrinking piece of territory near the border with Turkey.

In May, Daesh attacked Marea, cutting it off from the lifeline of A'zaz on the Turkish border. Some 160,000 people are trapped in the area as Turkey has shut its borders to civilians trying to flee.

The northern Aleppo enclave was cut off from the city to the south in February by government forces, backed by Russian air power.

The government is continuing to batter southern Aleppo, launching a barrage of airstrikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo city. Helicopters were dropping highly inaccurate and destructive barrel bombs on the city, activists said.

At least 15 people were killed and as many injured in the attacks, according to Abdel Rahman.

In Aleppo city, video footage taken by activists on the ground showed heavy damage to buildings. Activist Mahmoud al Shahabi told dpa that there are two hospitals in the area that suffered some damage.

Al Shahabi, who lives in Aleppo, said cemeteries are full and people are using "what remains of the public garden and children playgrounds to bury their loved ones."

The city is split, but the rebel-held section is coming under increasing pressure. The Syria Campaign, a pro-opposition advocacy group, said in a tweet: "Aleppo has run out of coffins and body bags. And the bombs keep falling."

President Bashar al-Assad this week vowed to step up attacks on "terrorists," a term he employs to refer to those opposing his rule.

The al-Assad family has run Syria since 1970 and the 2011 uprising was largely in response to what opponents see as oppressive policies.

Observers said Daesh forces retreated from Marea and nearby villages in order to shore up their lines in Minbij, as that area is a major transit artery and sits close to al-Raqqa, the extremists' de-facto Syrian capital.

Kurdish officials also claim the extremists still have supply lines running over the Turkish frontier into the Minbij area.

The US, which has launched more than 100 airstrikes in Minbij and Marea to help the ground forces, also says the goal of the operation is to limit foreign fighter flows to Daesh.

The offensive inside the pocket is being led by Arab brigades within the DSF, according to US and Kurdish officials.

Turkey itself has been wary of the offensive against Daesh, due to close links between the group at the core of the DSF, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been engaged in fighting against Turkish security forces in south-eastern Turkish provinces.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he was given promises by the US that Kurdish forces would not remain in Minbij after Daesh was ousted. Washington hasn't confirmed Cavusoglu's claim.

The defence ministers of Iran, Russia and Syria are scheduled to meet on Thursday in Tehran to discuss the battle against Daesh, according to Iranian media reports.

By Weedah Hamzah and Shabtai Gold

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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