Middle East

Army, Kurds advance against ISIS in Hassakeh

A member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) mans a mounted machine gun in the Al-Nashwa neighbourhood in the northeastern Syrian province of Hasakeh on July 26, 2015. Syrian government troops and Kurdish forces advanced against Islamic State group fighters in the northeastern city of Hasakeh, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media said. AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

BEIRUT: Syrian government troops and Kurdish forces advanced Sunday against ISIS fighters in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, a monitor and state media said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said ISIS forces were now confined to two small areas in the city.

The provincial governor told state news agency SANA that “the army and national forces are in the final stage of being able to declare Hassakeh city fully secure.”

“The army backed by pro-regime gunmen took control of the Youth Housing area ... in southern Hassakeh,” the Observatory said, adding that government forces had also cut supply lines between two ISIS positions in the city. Simultaneously, it added, Kurdish forces secured control of the western Nashwa area, further confining the extremists.

“ISIS forces are now only in two small neighborhoods, Al-Zuhur and Al-Shariah,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

The Observatory said residents who fled the fighting had begun returning to neighborhoods that were taken back from ISIS.

The extremist group began its assault on Hassakeh city on June 25, seizing several neighborhoods before regime and Kurdish forces began a fight-back.

Before the assault, control of Hassakeh was shared between Kurdish and regime forces, but the fighting has seen the Kurds expand the area under their control.

The Observatory Saturday said Kurdish forces now held around 70 percent of Hassakeh city, with the regime controlling 20 percent and ISIS around 10 percent.

The city is the capital of Hassakeh province, which is ethnically mixed and includes Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian residents.

Separately, the head of the Kurdish party PYD was quoted as saying he would welcome incorporating Kurdish militiamen into the Syrian army, on the condition that the institution drop its Baathist ideology.

Speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper, Saleh Muslim said fighters from the YPG Kurdish militia could conceivably join the Syrian Army in the future, but downplayed a role for President Bashar Assad in a new political arrangement for the war-torn country. “I don’t think Assad has a future in Syria, after everything that’s happened,” he added.

Muslim said a new Syrian political regime would have to abandon its “one party, one ethnicity” stance, referring to the pan-Arabism of the Baath Party.

Muslim’s PYD considers itself “anti-regime” because of several issues on which it is at odds with Damascus, but many members of the Syrian anti-regime opposition accuse the group of being in league with the Syrian authorities.

Separately, regime forces renewed their campaign targeting the ISIS-held town of Palmyra.

Lebanon’s Al-Manar television said Syrian troops were on the outskirts of the city, famous for being a UNESCO world heritage site, and had seized a number of mountaintop positions.

Pro-regime Syrian news outlets said that the approach of army troops and National Defense militiamen spurred “large numbers” of ISIS fighters inside Palmyra to flee.

ISIS seized Palmyra in May after a short campaign which saw most of the town’s defenders abandon their positions. With AFP

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 27, 2015, on page 5.

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