Middle East

ISIS in major assault on Syria border town Ras al-Ain: activists

Tanks belonging to Syrian government forces are positioned near the Jazel oil field, near the ancient city of Palmyra in the east of Homs province after they retook the area from ISIS fighters on March 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ STR

BEIRUT: ISIS launched a major offensive Wednesday to try to capture a strategic town on the Syrian-Turkish border, leaving dozens dead in clashes, activists said.

"Fighters from the Islamic State group (ISIS) started a huge assault towards Ras al-Ain and were able to take over a village nearby," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The offensive is a preemptive strike against Kurdish militia who were planning an attack on the ISIS-held town of Tal Abyad farther west along the border, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Tal Abyad is an Arab and Kurdish town in the Syrian province of Raqqa used by ISIS jihadis as a gateway from Turkey.

At least 12 fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which control Ras al-Ain and the surrounding villages, were killed in the ISIS onslaught, according to Abdel Rahman.

"This is a big hit to the morale of Kurdish fighters," he said.

He was unable to give an exact death toll for the jihadis but said that including ISIS casualties scores had been killed.

A spokesman for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG's political arm, confirmed an intense battle was raging around the town.

Ras al-Ain, in Hassakeh province, was the scene of major fighting in 2013 before Kurdish forces ousted rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadis from the town, which has a border crossing with Ceylanpinar in Turkey.

Kurdish fighters are also locked in clashes with ISIS around the strategic town of Tal Tamr, just southeast of Ras al-Ain, which lies near a key road that links to their Iraqi bastion of Mosul to the east.

The IS offensives come just weeks after Kurdish militia backed by Iraqi peshmerga fighters and Syrian rebels drove the extremists out of Kobane farther west along the Turkish border.

The town, which was devastated by months of fighting and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, became a prominent symbol of resistance against the jihadis.

Kurdish and allied forces have since taken much of the surrounding countryside in northern Aleppo province and have begun pushing east into neighboring Raqqa province, home to ISIS' self-proclaimed "capital."

ISIS has seized large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq and imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Foreign jihadis have flocked to Syria, often crossing over from Turkey, since the country's conflict began in March 2011 as a popular revolt which later escalated into a full-blown civil war.





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