Kurds battle Daesh on Syria border as Turkey blocks refugees

Kurds battle Daesh on Syria border as Turkey blocks refugees

Kurdish People’s Protection Units edged closer to Tal Abyad, a border town used by militants as a gateway from Turkey into Daesh’s bastion province of Raqqa.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 15 Jun 2015, 1:55 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:07 PM

 In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey,  Turkish army watch as Syrian refugees wait on the Syrian side of the border in order to cross. -AP

Beirut - Kurdish fighters pressed an offensive on Saturday to capture a key Syrian border town from the Daesh group, as Turkish forces sought to prevent thousands fleeing the fighting from crossing the frontier.

Further west, an Islamist rebel alliance pushed Daesh extremists back from a strategic cross-border supply route.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) edged closer on Saturday to Tal Abyad, a border town used by militants as a gateway from Turkey into Daesh’s bastion province of Raqqa.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said YPG fighters, backed by Syrian rebels and air strikes from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, advanced to within 10 kilometres southwest of Tal Abyad.

“The Kurds, along with a few Syrian rebel groups, want to surround the town and cut off Daesh’s supply route,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The YPG marched closer to the vital border crossing after routing the militants in Suluk, a town east of Tal Abyad.

Abdel Rahman said most Daesh fighters had withdrawn from Suluk on Saturday, but had booby-trapped homes and scattered mines throughout the streets.

He said fighting and air strikes around Suluk had killed 16 militants and at least three civilians on Saturday.

Clashes were ongoing on either side of Tal Abyad, forcing residents to flee south to Raqqa city, or north to the Turkish border, he said.

Thousands of displaced Syrians amassed at the frontier, prompting Turkish security forces to use water cannons and fire warning shots to push them away, an AFP photographer said.

Officials said Turkey had taken in over 13,500 refugees escaping the fighting in recent days, but Turkish forces did not allow any through the border gate on Saturday.

Turkey is a key backer of the political and military opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, and already hosts more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Local Syrian activist Arin Shekhmos said Kurdish fighters and their rebel allies were fighting to clear the entire northern frontier area of militants.

Shekhmos, who travels to the battle’s front line daily with YPG units, described the terrain as “practically desert, with scattered villages,” and said Kurdish fighters were optimistic about their offensive.

“The Kurdish leadership hasn’t announced what their future offensives will be, but the Syrian groups fighting alongside them... said that after they liberate Tal Abyad, they will go to Raqqa city,” Shekhmos said.

Backed by US-led air raids, YPG units scored a landmark victory against IS in January in Kobane, a border town in Aleppo province.

Since then, Kurdish forces have been chipping away at jihadist territory on either side of Raqqa — from Hasakeh province to the east, and Aleppo to the west.

Aleppo province is one of the most complicated battlefields in Syria’s multi-front war, with rebels, regime forces, militants, and Kurds carving out areas of control.

Late Friday, a Syrian Islamist alliance pushed militants further back from one if its key supply routes from Turkey into northern Aleppo.

The rebels ousted Daesh from the village of Al Bal, leaving 14 rebels and 15 extremists dead, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The militants had captured Al Bal on Tuesday, bringing them to within 10 kilometres of the strategic Bab Al Salama border crossing.

Further south, the rebels were fighting to defend the town of Marea, on the road linking the crossing and the rebel-held eastern sector of Aleppo city.

Activists said the rebels were simultaneously launching their own attacks on Daesh positions in the area.

Mamun Abu Omar, head of a local pro-rebel press agency, said “Daesh is trying to surround the town by occupying the villages all around it.”

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