Syria rebels capture strategic town from Daesh

Russia says all participants in Syria talks in Lausanne had agreed Syrians should decide their own future

17:09 October 16, 2016
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army cheer

Beirut: Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces have captured the symbolically significant town of Dabiq from the Daesh group, the factions said on Sunday morning.

A commander of the Syrian opposition Hamza Brigade said Daesh fighters put up “minimal” resistance to defend the northern Syrian town before withdrawing in the direction of the much larger Daesh-held town of Al Bab to the south.

Saif Abu Bakr said some 2,000 opposition fighters pushed into Dabiq with tank and artillery support from the Turkish army. The commander said the militants left the town heavily mined.

Both Turkish and international coalition warplanes conducted air strikes on Dabiq and nearby Arshak, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The Daesh group took control of the town, which had a pre-war population of about 3,000 people, in August 2014.

The group’s English language magazine, Dabiq, is named after the town, and in 2014 they said they had buried the American captive Peter Abdul Rahman Kassig there.

The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August this year under orders from Ankara to clear the border area from the Daesh group and from US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked Turkey’s own outlawed Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish government describes both groups as terrorists.

Syrian opposition forces backed by Turkish ground and air forces have since expelled Daesh militants from their last positions along the Syrian-Turkish frontier and are closing in on Al Bab, one of the last remaining Daesh strongholds in Syria’s contested Aleppo province.

Turkey has bused thousands of opposition fighters from other fronts in northern Syria to the frontier as part of operation “Euphrates Shield,” named after the vital river that runs through the region.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group, which monitors the conflict through a network of local contacts, said the extremist group had sent over 1,000 fighters to defend Dabiq last week before withdrawing hurriedly.

Meanwhile on the diplomatic front, Russia said all participants in Syria talks in Lausanne had agreed Syrians should decide their own future through inclusive dialogue and that the country should remain whole and secular, after the meeting ended without a breakthrough.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that in order for a US-Russian ceasefire agreement to succeed and to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries, Syria’s moderate opposition must separate from Fatah Al Sham, previously known as Al Nusra Front, and other “terrorist groups” affiliated with it.

“At the same time, it should be understood that operations against terrorists of Daesh and Al Nusra Front will be continued,” the ministry said.

Saturday’s talks, convened by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city, failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year.

Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region — from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt — weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted US-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations in Syria’s largest city Aleppo, as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives. Syria and Russia say they are only targeting militants.