Rebels close on ISIL-held Dabiq in Syria, 15 killed
AA photoSyrian rebels backed by Turkey and a U.S.-led coalition are closing in on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-held village of Dabiq, the site of an apocalyptic prophesy central to the militant group’s ideology, while 15 Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters have been killed in the past one day during clashes with the jihadists as part of the ongoing Euphrates Shield operation.
A rebel leader said the plan was to reach Dabiq within 48 hours, but cautioned that ISIL had heavily mined the surrounding area, a sign of its importance to the group.
“If matters proceed as planned, within 48 hours we will be in Dabiq,” Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad FSA group, told Reuters.
However, ISIL has heavily mined the area, making progress around Turkman Bareh slower than in other areas, he said.
The U.S.-led coalition against ISIL is actively supporting the rebels as they advance “to within a few kilometers of ISIL’s weakening stronghold [of] Dabiq,” Brett McGurk, Washington’s special envoy for the coalition, said in a Tweet on Oct. 2.
Washington believes taking Dabiq could strike at ISIL’s morale as it prepares to fend off expected offensives against Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Raqqa, the largest cities held by the jihadists, officials from a coalition country said.
Although Dabiq, a village in relatively flat countryside northeast of Aleppo, holds little strategic value, it is seen by ISIL as the place where a final battle will take place between Muslims and infidels, heralding Doomsday.
The group has named its online English-language magazine Dabiq and in April and May sent about 800 fighters there to defend it against advances by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Oct. 3.
The Turkish military said in a statement that 15 FSA fighters were killed and 35 were wounded in clashes with ISIL militants by the early hours of Oct. 3. It added that the military had fired a total of 301 shots at 63 ISIL targets, killing militants nearby and destroying six vehicles, seven Katyusha positions and three tents spotted by surveillance vehicles.
FSA fighters engaged in heavy clashes with ISIL militants, especially in the Boztepe, Hardanah and Turkman Bareh regions on the Azaz/al-Rai line, the military stated.
Ankara-backed FSA fighters have seized control in an area of around 960 square kilometers in Syria since the beginning of the operation on Aug. 24.
Meanwhile, the Turkish military also stated that 13 ISIL militants were killed in 11 air strikes conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces in the Ziyadiyah, Bahrutah, Duwaybiq, Aktarina and Turkman Bareh regions.
Four buildings, three vehicles and one mortar shell were also destroyed in the coalition air strikes, it added.
Meanwhile, at least two people were killed on Oct. 3 in rare suicide blasts in the central Syrian city of Hama, claimed by ISIL.
Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a local police source, said two “terrorists” detonated their explosive belts near Assi Square in the city center about 15 minutes apart.
The attack killed two people and wounded 12 others, Hama Gov. Ghassan Khalaf told state television.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, one of the blasts hit a building used by the ruling Baath party.
The ISIL-affiliated Amaq news agency said “suicide attacks by fighters from the Islamic State [ISIL] using explosive vests” targeted government buildings in the city.