Saturday 21 January 2017

Civilians flee as Isil pushes towards Turkish border

Louisa Loveluck

Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30

Special forces from Jaish al-Izzah, part of the Free Syrian Army, take part in a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in the north of Hama province, Syria, on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Special forces from Jaish al-Izzah, part of the Free Syrian Army, take part in a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in the north of Hama province, Syria, on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Thousands of civilians fled an Isil offensive yesterday as the terrorist group achieved its most significant advance along the Turkish border for two years.

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The three-pronged attack threatened to overrun the last swathe of territory in eastern Aleppo province held by non-jihadist rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said that over 6,000 people had sought safety in Kurdish-controlled territory to the west.

Others joined the burgeoning number of civilians camped along the Syrian side of Turkey's now closed border.

As many as 165,000 displaced people may now be scattered in fields and informal settlements along the frontier, as well as in the nearby town of Azaz.

Although Turkey says it has an open-door policy for Syrians fleeing war, the border remains closed to all but the most severely injured, and Turkish police have shot refugees trying to cross illegally.

By clearing rebel forces from Azaz and the nearby town of Marea, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) would strengthen its hold on a stretch of land along the Turkish border.

Control of the area would allow the terrorists to threaten the Bab al-Salama border crossing - the strip of territory where thousands of civilians are now concentrated, and thousands more are expected to gather in the coming days.

Isil appears to be using its new territory to restart its war against the Turkish state.

After a two-week lull, Isil launched fired more projectiles at Kilis, a Turkish border town where refugees and local residents now live in fear of the group's rockets.

Marea has long been a bastion of relatively moderate rebel forces fighting to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

During almost six years of war, the town has survived regime tank and air assaults and the effects of Isil's chemical weapons.

But the terrorists finally entered the town on Friday, surrounding its hospital for 10 hours before being pushed back.

"We are very scared inside this hospital. We know Isil is coming back," said one member of the staff, asking for his name to be withheld.

Hours later, Isil gunmen did return - and the fighting continued as night fell.

Activists said that rebel forces had managed to counter-attack against Isil, retaking two villages, Kafr Shoush and Braghida, and expanding their buffer zone around Azaz.

But Isil has often used such retreats strategically, tiring out its rebel foes and then returning to take the territory with less of a fight.

Telegraph.co.uk

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