Thousands flee IS offensive in northern Syria

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Beirut—Thousands of civilians have fled an offensive by ISIS against non-militant rebels in northern Syria into territory controlled by a US-backed Kurdish-led alliance, a monitor said on Sunday. The offensive against the towns of Marea and Azaz threatens to overrun the last swathe of territory in the east of Aleppo province held by non-militant rebels and bring IS to the doorstep of the Kurds’ Afrin enclave. At least 29 civilians have been killed since ISIS launched the assault early on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It came as the militants were under attack by the Kurdish-led alliance in Raqa province further east and by the army and allied militia around Fallujah in neighbouring Iraq. “More than 6,000 civilians, most of them women and children, were able to flee areas in the countryside of Aleppo province… especially from Marea town and Sheikh Issa village” to its west, the Britain-based monitoring group said. “The displaced arrived last night in areas in the west and north of Aleppo province under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. The SDF is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that Washington regards as the most effective force on the ground in Syria against the militants of ISIS.
Washington’s support for the alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has severely strained relations with NATO ally Ankara which regards it as a terror group. AFP pictures of US commandos wearing the YPG insignia drew condemnation on Saturday from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.—Agencies

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