Syrian regime forces yesterday battled Islamic State (IS) group militants near Aleppo City as they clashed with a local al-Qaeda affiliate and allied rebels nearby, a monitoring group said.
The upsurge in fighting, which the US says is straining a fragile truce, came as a new round of peace talks got under way in Geneva.
“Fierce fighting raged between regime troops and loyalist militia against IS... to the east of Khanasser” southeast of Aleppo City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The army is trying to recapture several areas seized by the militants on Thursday near Khanasser, the UK-based monitor said.
Troops and militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime battled Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and allied rebels on a northern front in the battered province, the group said.
Syrian warplanes carried out several strikes against al-Nusra and rebel positions, as shells targeting the loyalists left six pro-regime militia fighters dead, it added.
The latest violence came a day after a senior official in Washington said the US was “very concerned” about reports of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive near Aleppo.
Even though the fight against Islamic State and al-Nusra is excluded from the truce, violence around Aleppo has sparked concerns that the ceasefire may not last, partly because rebels are involved in the battles there too.
“Aleppo is the key to war and peace in Syria,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. “Every side in the war has a stake in Aleppo.”
At least 30,000 civilians have fled the fighting in the north in the past 48 hours, Human Rights Watch said, calling on Turkey to open its border to them.
The watchdog accused Turkish border guards of shooting at some of those displaced in Aleppo Province by fighting between the Islamic State group and rebels as they approached the frontier.
“As civilians flee ISIS fighters, Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion,” HRW researcher Gerry Simpson said, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.
“The whole world is talking about fighting ISIS, and yet those most at risk of becoming victims of its horrific abuses are trapped on the wrong side of a concrete wall,” he said.
HRW said many of those who fled were residents of emergency camps set up along the border who headed for other camps or nearby towns and villages even though they were still unsafe.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that up to about 23,000 displaced people had fled the Islamic State group’s offensive in northern Syria.
It said many displaced were now “in close proximity to frontlines and therefore extremely vulnerable to further escalations.”
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