Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Syrian president makes rare public appearance

‘POSTIVE EFFECT’:Kurdish forces fighting IS near the Turkish border, in an area where 160,000 Syrians have been displaced, said the coalition airstrikes had helped


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, second left, and Damascus’ top cleric Adnan Afyouni, center, pray among other officials on the first day of Eid al-Adha at the Nuaman bin Bashir mosque in Damascus, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance on Saturday by attending prayers for a key Muslim holiday at a mosque in Damascus, hours after the US-led coalition carried out new airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

The airstrikes targeted Islamic State positions on Friday night in the eastern town of Shaddadeh, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassakeh, a stronghold of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The airstrikes caused casualties, activists said, with one group saying up to 30 Islamic State fighters were killed. It was the first time Shaddadeh was struck since the US-led campaign began nearly two weeks ago. There was no immediate confirmation by Washington.

The US and five Arab allies launched a bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria on Sept. 23 with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the group, which has created a proto-state spanning the border of Syria and Iraq.

The militants have also massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.

About 30 explosions were heard in and near Shaddadeh on Friday night, according to an activist in Hassakeh Province, who added that the targets included several buildings occupied by Islamic State fighters.

“There were deaths for sure,” said an activist who goes by the name Salar al-Kurdi. He spoke via Skype.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists around Syria, said as many as 30 fighters from the Islamic State group were killed in the airstrikes on Shaddadeh. It said all the dead were foreign fighters.

Meanwhile, intense fighting continued on the outskirts of Kobani, on the Syrian and Turkish border, where Islamic State fighters have been trying to capture the town, to open a direct link between their positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo, and their stronghold of Raqqa to the east.

Kobani and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages. The assault, which has forced about 160,000 Syrians to flee their homes, has left the Kurdish militiamen scrambling to repel the Islamic State’s advance into the outskirts of the town, also known in Arabic as Ayn Arab.

The Observatory said fighting on Saturday was focused on the southwestern edge of the town, adding that members of the Islamic State group were shelling Kobani.

From across the border in Turkey, the sound of heavy machine-gun fire could be heard coming from Kobani. It was not immediately clear if the Islamic State had entered the town itself, which is defended by fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.

Earlier on Friday, the US-led coalition had launched airstrikes near Kobani killing at least five Islamic State militants, according to the Observatory.

Kurdish Democratic Union Party spokesman Nawaf Khalil said the coalition airstrikes near Kobani had a “positive effect” and that the militants had failed to capture a strategic hill overlooking the town after five attacks.

In Turkey, a senior special forces police officer was wounded in the head by stray shrapnel from the fighting in Kobani, reported the private Dogan news agency. There was no immediate official confirmation of the incident. The news agency said the officer was being treated in hospital.

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