Turkish allies drive Islamic State from border regions

Syrian government forces recapture areas in Aleppo from rebels in separate clashes

Syrians flee from the town of Souran, in northern Hama. Syrian government forces and their allies have recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo from rebels. File photograph: Omar Haj-Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

Syrians flee from the town of Souran, in northern Hama. Syrian government forces and their allies have recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo from rebels. File photograph: Omar Haj-Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

 

Syrian government forces and their allies again laid siege to rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, while Turkish-backed fighters drove Islamic State from all the areas along its border, in two significant but separate developments in the multi-sided conflict.

The fighting complicated efforts by the US and Russia to reach a ceasefire deal for Syria, whose civil war is in its sixth year.

Talks by the Cold War foes on a ceasefire were set to continue on Monday, but US president Barack Obama told reporters at the G20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou that “we’re not there yet”.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad wants to fully recapture divided Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.

Gains made by Damascus have relied heavily on Russian air support since Moscow intervened in September of last year.

On Sunday, intense aerial and artillery attacks helped government forces and their allies drive insurgents out of the Ramousah military complex in Aleppo, according to rebels and a monitoring group.

The rebels had captured the complex in early August, breaking through a government siege of eastern Aleppo .

Sunday’s government advances resulted in a new siege of the area, said Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the war, and a Damascus military source also reported the new siege.

Russian support has turned the war in Assad’s favour in many areas, although rebels have made some gains, including in Hama province, further south.

Rebels launched a campaign on Sunday to try to capture the town of Maan, north of the city of Hama, the provincial capital, said Mohamed Rasheed, a spokesman for rebel group Jaish al-Nasr.

Advances by the insurgents in recent days have brought them to within 10km of government-controlled Hama, the Observatory and insurgents say.

Border battles

In a separate battle further east, rebels backed by Turkey - and made up of Aleppo-based factions - drove Islamic State militants from all areas they controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border, according to the rebels, Ankara and the Observatory.

Some 10 days ago, Turkey mounted its first full-scale incursion into Syrian territory since the conflict began in 2011, aimed at Isis and at US-backed Kurdish forces in the area, which have also been battling the jihadists.

The Turkish-backed advance denied Islamic State its main route to the outside world, through which it has moved fighters and weapons.

It was another blow for the jihadist group, which is under pressure in its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

But Turkey’s operation was focused just as firmly against US-backed Kurdish forces, which it fired at last week and which it insists must withdraw to east of the Euphrates river.

Ankara fears that advances by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has been one of the most effective partners for the US coalition fighting Isis, will embolden Kurdish militants on its own soil.

With support from Turkish tanks and warplanes, the rebels now appear to have secured a roughly 90km stretch of land that Turkey long wanted to control to keep out jihadists and to stop the advance of the YPG.

Peace efforts

Sunday’s advances illustrate the complexity of the Syrian conflict, which has drawn in most world and regional powers.

Efforts to end the fighting have been repeatedly confounded.

A deal brokered in February by the US and Russia fell apart earlier this year.

Even before Sunday’s battlefield developments, US president Barack Obama said that the two countries were struggling to reach a new ceasefire agreement between Damascus and rebels.

“We’re not there yet,” Mr Obama told reporters after a meeting with British prime minister Theresa May in Hangzhou.

“We have grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that is required to bring about peace in Syria.”

Reuters