Syrian rebels retake two key villages from ISIL
AFP photoSyrian rebels took back two villages near the Turkish border on June 8 by ousting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants and thus re-opening a key supply route for opposition forces in northern Aleppo, a monitoring group has said.
ISIL had captured several villages between the rebel-held northern towns of Marea and Azaz on May 27, cutting off rebel forces in Marea from their supply line with Turkey and forcing thousands of people to flee.
But on the morning of June 8 rebels, including several Islamist groups, launched simultaneous attacks from the two towns to squeeze ISIL fighters out, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIL “did not fight hard, but rather withdrew, as they are facing attacks on numerous fronts in northern Syria,” said Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman.
The stranded rebels were air dropped weapons last week by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, rebel sources said at the time.
Rebel fighters in Marea broke the siege when they captured the village of Kafr Kalbin on the road linking Marea with Azaz, 20 kilometers to the northwest at the border with Turkey. The advance was preceded by a rebel statement saying they were uniting their ranks.
“It seems they [ISIL] can’t keep several fronts open at the same time. It is a strategic area, they were on the verge of entering Azaz,” Abdulrahman added.
An opposition source said ISIL had withdrawn from the area quickly and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions had filled the void, Reuters reported.
The latest clashes also threatened tens of thousands of displaced people sheltering in makeshift camps next to the Turkish border.
FSA rebels fighting ISIL north of Aleppo have received military assistance from states opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Their battle with ISIL is separate to one being waged further east by a U.S.-backed group, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and Syrian Arab fighters. U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters are advancing towards the ISIL-held town of Manbij in an attempt to cut off the jihadists’ supplies of recruits and funds across the Turkish border.
Sharfan Darwish of the Manbij Military Council and a spokesperson for the SDF said on June 8 that they were ready to enter Manbij at will but were being cautious due to the presence of civilians there.
“Any moment we want to enter it, we can, but because of the presence of civilians ... we are being cautious about entering the city,” Darwish told Reuters.
“I can say that the matter of liberating Manbij is settled. When the time comes we will enter it of course,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Observatory said Syrian government air strikes on rebel-held neighborhoods of divided second city of Aleppo killed at least 15 civilians on June 8.
The Observatory said at least 10 of the dead came in raids just outside the Al-Bayan hospital in the Shaar neighborhood.
Two children were among four people killed in strikes on the Al-Marja district using barrel bombs - crude explosive devices packed with shrapnel and usually dropped from helicopters, the Observatory said.
One person was killed in a strike on the Al-Maadi neighborhood.
Rescue workers - known as the White Helmets - gave a higher toll of 23 dead.