ISIL advances in Syria area key for Turkey, US
BEIRUT – Agence Frence-Presse
REUTERS photoIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters seized five villages from rebel forces in Syria’s northern Aleppo province overnight and entered the outskirts of a key opposition bastion there, a monitor said on Aug. 27.
The jihadist group seized three villages near the town of Marea and entered its southern outskirts, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Turkey is pushing for creating a 98 kilometer long and 40 kilometer wide ISIL-free zone on the Syrian side of the border between Marea and Jerablus, with U.S. officials saying that no final agreement was achieved on the issue.
ISIL fighters took another two villages further north in Aleppo province, near the border with Turkey.
Those two villages were previously controlled by Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which withdrew from them after Turkey and the United States announced plans on the ISIL-free zone.
Marea is one of the most significant rebel-held towns in northern Aleppo and lies on a key supply route running to the Turkish border.
ISIL has targeted the town for months, seeking to expand westwards from territory it already holds in Aleppo province.
The Observatory said there were reports of dozens of rebel casualties in the fighting, but it had no immediate toll.
It also reported an ISIL car bomb on the southern outskirts of Marea on Thursday morning, but had no details on deaths or injuries.
Activists and medical organizations said this week they had documented an alleged chemical weapons attack, possibly involving mustard gas, on the town on Aug. 21.
Activists accused ISIL of being behind the attack.
The ISIL-free zone plan has backing from some rebel forces on the ground, including the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham movement, which Washington does not work with.
But al-Nusra has rejected the proposal, despite its opposition to ISIL, and earlier this month withdrew from its front lines against its jihadist rival in Aleppo in order to avoid cooperating with the plan.
It turned those positions over to other rebels.
More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests.
It has evolved into a complex multi-front war, with regime and rebel forces as well as Kurds and jihadists involved in the fighting, and a U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIL.
In Iraq, a suicide attack claimed by ISIL killed two generals on Aug. 27 in the key battleground province of Anbar.
ISIL overran large areas of Iraq in 2014 and seized Anbar capital Ramadi earlier this year. It also controls major territory in neighboring Syria, where it has thrived amid a bloody civil war.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said a suicide bomber in an explosives-rigged vehicle struck the Al-Jaraishi area north of Ramadi as Iraqi forces advanced.
The attack killed the deputy head of the Anbar Operations Command, Staff Major General Abdulrahman Abu Raghif, and 10th Division commander Staff Brigadier General Safin Abdulmajid, Rasool said.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement online, but gave a different account of how it unfolded, saying it was carried out by four suicide bombers and two supporting gunmen who targeted the main command headquarters north of Ramadi. It said all six of the jihadists were killed.