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Monday , December 6 2021

US-backed Syria fighters edge into IS hub – Kurds flee DAESH-held areas amid abductions

ALEPPO, Syria, June 25, (Agencies): US-backed fighters edged further into the Islamic State group stronghold of Manbij on Saturday, threatening a key stop on the jihadists’ lifeline from Turkey to their “caliphate” in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. But in the IS-held eastern town of Al-Quriyah, 47 people, most of them civilians, died in Russian and government bombardment, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Thirty-one civilians were killed in three raids alone, but it was not immediately clear whether the 16 others were civilians or IS fighters, said the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman. Russian, Syrian, and US-led coalition warplanes are all carrying out raids against IS territory in the battered country. In Manbij, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces overran a key road junction in the city’s south after capturing nearby grain silos overnight.

“The grain silos overlook more than half of Manbij. SDF fighters can climb to the top and monitor the city,” said Abdel Rahman. The Raqa Revolutionaries Brigades — one of the Arab components of the Kurdish-dominated alliance — also said the SDF had seized the silos and pushed into the city.

The Mills Roundabout lies less than two kilometres (one mile) from the city centre. Captured by IS in 2014, Manbij was a key transit point for foreign fighters and funds, as well as a trafficking hub for oil, antiquities and other plundered goods. If it succeeds, the offensive on Manbij — backed by intense air strikes by a US-led coalition — would mark the most significant victory against IS for the SDF.

Across the frontier in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, security forces were poised to assault Jolan, the last neighbourhood still held by IS.

Tens of thousands of people fled the fighting, with many camped out in the open in the summer heat. “Dozens of families are still without tents or any form of shelter inside the camps, living in miserable conditions. The majority are elderly people, women and children,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The SDF launched its offensive to take Manbij on May 31, driving across the Euphrates River from the east with military advice from some 200 US special forces troops. IS has thrown large numbers of fighters into the battle, losing 463, according to the Observatory. The SDF has lost at least 89.

The jihadists have taken as many as 1,000 Kurdish civilians hostage in areas under their control west of Manbij, according to the Observatory. Manbij lies in the eastern plains of Aleppo province, which has become a battleground between an array of competing armed groups, including al-Qaeda, non-jihadist rebels and government forces, as well as the SDF and IS.

Aleppo was once the country’s commercial hub but now lies divided between government forces in the west and rebels in the east. A two-day freeze on fighting brokered by Moscow and Washington this month expired without renewal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Kurds fleeing Islamic State-held villages in northern Syria amid a wave of mass abductions have come under fire, with several killed or wounded, opposition activists and a Kurdish official said Saturday.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, airstrikes on a village controlled by the extremist group have killed at least 30 people and wounded many others, opposition activists said. Activist Omar Abu Leila, who is from the eastern city of Deir el-Zour but currently lives in Europe, said Saturday’s airstrikes targeted a mosque in the village of Qourieh, killing at least 30 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 46 people were killed in Qourieh, including children. It says 31 of the dead were civilians and the rest have not been identified yet. Abu Leila said the airstrikes were carried out by Russian warplanes. Russia has denied targeting civilians. Qourieh is in the province of Deir el- Zour, which borders Iraq.

Most of the province is ruled by the extremist group. In the northern province of Aleppo, the hundreds of Kurds fled as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed and predominantly Kurdish militia, clashed with IS inside Manbij, a key stronghold of the extremist group.

The SDF have pushed into the town from the southern edge, capturing grain silos and flour mills, according to the Observatory. One family who fled was struck by a mine on Friday that killed two family members and wounded the other three, Sherfan Darwish, an SDF spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said a 10-year-old girl was killed by IS sniper fire on Friday. “Civilians are defying death in order to leave areas controlled by Daesh,” Darwish said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The exodus began after IS abducted about 900 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo province over the past three weeks and forced them to build fortifications for the extremists in retaliation for the Kurdishled assault, which is also targeting the IS stronghold of al-Bab. Others were trying to flee Manbij, which is surrounded by SDF fighters.

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