Middle East

ISIS loses more than 20 villages in Syria

Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters stand with their weapons in Tel Hamis in Hasaka countryside March 1, 2015.REUTERS/Rodi Said

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces and Kurdish militia fought separate battles with ISIS militants in a strategic area near the Iraqi and Turkish borders, a monitoring group said.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) launched uncoordinated offensives against ISIS in the northeastern province of Hassakeh, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP that after three days of clashes, regime forces bolstered by fighters from Arab tribes had secured control over 23 villages in the center of the province from ISIS. Syria’s official news agency SANA put the number at 31.

State television said the army offensive would continue until it controlled the main road linking the provincial capital Hassakeh and the city of Qamishli.

“ISIS has launched counterattacks on regime checkpoints, while the regime fortifies its positions with support from local Arab tribes,” Abdel Rahman added.

He said YPG fighters were meanwhile also battling ISIS alongside Arab tribes outside the village of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh’s southwest.

“The YPG fighters in Tal Tamr are shelling ISIS around the area to lure ISIS to respond, so they can identify their positions” and call for strikes by the U.S.-led coalition waging an air campaign against ISIS, he said.

“But ISIS is avoiding any response in order not to give away its positions.”

YPG spokesman Redur Khalil confirmed to AFP that the Kurdish fighters were conducting “attack-and-retreat” operations with ISIS on two fronts.

“The first is around Tal Tamr, in order to retake Assyrian towns in the area, and the second is around Tal Brak,” a town between Hassakeh and Qamishli, he said.

ISIS launched an attack last week on the areas around Kurdish-controlled Tal Tamr and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians from 11 villages. Nineteen of them were freed Sunday after ransoms were paid.

Control of Hassakeh province is split among ISIS, regime fighters and Kurdish militia, with overlap at a number of points.

Government forces withdrew from most of the province in the first few months after the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, granting greater autonomy to the Kurds.

The area is of strategic importance because it borders both Turkey and Iraq.

A U.N. fact-finding mission meanwhile deployed to Syria’s second city Aleppo Monday, despite the rejection by opposition forces of a partial cease-fire there proposed by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura.

“The mission will aim to assess the situation on the ground and to ensure that, once the freeze is announced, humanitarian aid can significantly increase, and to prepare arrangements to follow up on violations of the freeze,” his office said in a statement.

The Italian-Swedish diplomat has made the Aleppo freeze the centerpiece of his mediation efforts since he was named as special envoy on the Syrian conflict in July.

In rural Aleppo province, after the collapse of the Free Syrian Army militia Hazm Movement over the weekend, fighters from the group have begun to join two Islamist factions, the Observatory said.

The move followed clashes between Hazm and the Nusra Front which killed approximately 100 fighters – 60 from Hazm and 40 from Nusra.

The Hazm fighters have joined the Al-Ansar Brigade and the Nour al-din al-Zinki Brigade, both active in northern Syria, the Observatory said.

The news came one day after Hazm announced it had disbanded, as the Nusra Front seized its headquarters and other bases in western Aleppo province. It also came after the apparent refusal of the Shamiah Front, the largest rebel alliance in Aleppo, to accept Hazm members after the group’s collapse.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 03, 2015, on page 8.

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