Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Syrian Kurds capture base from IS

Reuters, BEIRUT

Kurdish-led forces on Monday said that they had captured a military base from Islamic State (IS) in Syria’s Raqqa Province, advancing deeper into territory held by the group and showing new momentum after they seized a border crossing from the militants last week.

The Kurds, aided by US-led air strikes and smaller Syrian rebel groups, pushed on Monday to within 7km of Ain Issa, a town 50km north of Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa City, Kurdish YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said.

“They have been defeated,” Xelil said.

The group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had held the military base, Liwa 93, southwest of Ain Issa, since capturing it from the Syrian military last year.

“This means that the Islamic State keeps collapsing inside its own stronghold,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict.

The rapid advance into Raqqa Province has defied expectations of a protracted battle between the Kurdish YPG group and IS fighters, who waged a four-month battle for the border town of Kobani, where the Kurds finally defeated the militants in January.

Raqqa is the main seat of power in Syria for IS, which has proclaimed a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from territory it controls in Syria and Iraq.

The US has been leading an air campaign against the group in both countries since last year. The Kurds have been the most important partner so far for the US-led campaign in Syria, where it has far fewer allies on the ground than in Iraq.

The Kurdish front in northern Syria has been one of the few sources of good news for the global campaign against IS since the militants made major advances last month in western Iraq and central Syria.

A spokesman for the Pentagon last week said that IS forces had appeared to “crack” at the Turkish border town of Tel Abyad, which fell to the YPG in less than two days, cutting Islamic State’s supply route from Turkey.

Thousands of people had fled from Ain Issa toward Raqqa City in the past two days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Some refugees from the Tel Abyad area had accused the YPG of driving Arabs and Turkmen from territory seized from Islamic State. More than 23,000 people had fled northern Syria into Turkey.

With the fighting having moved on and a border crossing reopening, some of the refugees were returning to Tel Abyad on Monday. Hundreds of Syrians, mostly women and children carrying bags of belongings, returned across the border from the Turkish town of Akcakale.

Kurdish officials denied forcing people out and said that such accusations were being made to stir up ethnic strife.

The Observatory has said there has been no evidence of systematic abuses by the YPG, though there have been individual cases.

The Kurdish advance is alarming the Turkish government, which is worried the growing Kurdish sway in northern Syria could inflame ethnic unrest among its own Kurdish population.

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