Kurdish-Led Syrian Forces Seize Villages in Northern Syria

Kurdish-led forces in Syria are pressing their campaign to drive Islamic State militants from areas in northern Aleppo province, expanding the front line with rival Turkish-backed opposition fighters also operating in the area, activists and rebels said Wednesday.

The Russian military accused a U.S.-led coalition airstrike of killing six civilians in Hassajek, hours before the announcement that the village had been taken from IS.

While a brief lull is taking hold in the divided city of Aleppo, most of the surrounding province has become Syria’s hottest theater of combat, showcasing the complexity of the terrain where rival forces are vying for control.

In the area of Hassajek, three rival groups are battling IS: the Kurdish-led forces, Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and troops loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish-led forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, gained control of Hassajek, killing at least 10 IS militants in fighting there.

One of the fighting units in SDF, the Rebel Army, said in a statement that the clashes with IS militants continued for the third straight day further to the south. It said its troops also seized weapons and ammunition from IS.

The advance by the Kurdish-led forces has widened the front line between them and rival Syrian rebels, who in recent weeks have pushed into northern Aleppo backed by Turkish tanks and aircraft, driving out the Islamic State group from villages and towns it controlled. The Turkey-backed offensive also aims to undercut Kurdish aspirations for a contiguous and independent east-to-west stretch of territory in Syria.

The Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria said the strike Hassajek also wounded four people and destroyed two houses.

Russian military surveillance spotted two Belgian F-16 fighter jets over the area at the time of the strike, the center said, adding that Russian and Syrian warplanes were not flying over the area. Russia’s Tass news agency reported from Brussels that the Belgian defense minister denied Belgian aircraft had struck the area.

In the besieged city of Aleppo, which has witnessed some of the most intense aerial bombing in the six-year-old Syrian conflict, Russian and Syrian warplanes halted their airstrikes on Tuesday.

The brief lull was in preparations for a temporary pause in military actions that Moscow has announced for Thursday, to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the city.

The Russian offer comes after a proposal by the U.N. Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to allow al-Qaida-linked militants to leave Aleppo in exchange for a truce and a self-rule for the city’s eastern districts. Rebels there, along with many residents, have rejected the offer.

Bassam Heji, a member of the rebel group Nour el-Din al-Zinki, said the Russian offer is a “trap” that only reflects its intention to “exterminate” the residents of the eastern, rebel-held Aleppo neighborhoods.

Russia’s announcement did not include any promises of an extended cease-fire or a local administration in and around Aleppo.

Last month, a U.S.-Russian-brokered cease-fire collapsed after lasting less than a week, amid renewed fighting in Aleppo.

The Observatory says that since the collapse of the truce on Sept.19, more than 640 people, including 128 children, have been killed in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and the surrounding rural areas.

The Observatory says 88 people, including 14 children, were killed in retaliatory shelling on government-held Aleppo.

Moscow has blamed Washington for the Aleppo violence, saying the U.S. failed to deliver on its pledge to encourage Syria’s Western-backed rebels to sever ties with al-Qaida militants.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the proposed break should allow for moderate opposition to sever ties with the militants.


Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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