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US Special Forces in Raqqa province
Soldiers believed to be US special forces are supporting the push towards RaqqaImage: Getty Images/AFP/D. Souleiman

IS gains ground in Syria despite recent losses

Darko Janjevic (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)
May 27, 2016

The "Islamic State" (IS) forces have seized several Syrian villages near Turkey, trapping thousands of civilians. At the same time, the group is losing territory near Raqqa and Fallujah, where an IS commander was killed.


The jihadi faction pushed back Turkish-backed rebels in the Aleppo province, leaving some 165,000 people displaced between the frontline and the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

"Islamic State" (IS) forces are now at 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border town of Azaz, which is on a key supply route for their opponents in the area. The anti-IS fighters are also pinched between the terror group and the armed Kurdish forces, which they battled separately in other parts of the province.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said a team was evacuating a hospital in Azaz and that they were "terribly concerned" for the staff, patients and the trapped civilians.

"There is nowhere for people to flee to as the fighting gets closer," said Pablo Marco, the charity's manager for the Middle East.

The border with Turkey has been closed for over year, and Observatory activists claim that Turkish soldiers have at times shot at Syrian refugees who tried to cross over. Ankara has denied the allegations.

Water and food critical in Fallujah

The IS advance in north Aleppo comes as the group is being pushed back in a twin offensive by Iraqi forces and a Kurdish-Arab alliance.

In Iraq, anti-IS fighters were nearing group's stronghold of Fallujah after launching an offensive to recapture the city earlier this week. A US officer said some 20 strikes in Fallujah had destroyed IS fighting positions.

"We've killed more than 70 enemy fighters, including Maher Al-Bilawi, who is the commander of ISIL forces in Fallujah," said US Col. Steve Warren, using an acronym for the IS group.

Hundreds of people fled Fallujah towards the advancing Iraqi forces on Friday, but activists believe there are still tens of thousands civilians in the city.

"Our forces evacuated 460 people... most of them women and children," said Iraqi police general Raed Shakir Jawdat.

Fallujah resident Umm Omar said IS tried to keep them from leaving and "gave us food that only animals would eat."

An official for the Norwegian Refugee Council said the situation inside the city was is "getting critical by the day."

"We are now hearing reports of contaminated water being used for drinking, while entire neighborhoods are being displaced within the battle zone with no safe way out," activist Nasr Muflahi said.

IS moving troops to protect Raqqa

Civilians were also attempting to flee from the IS de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria, as the US-led coalition conducted more airstrikes on the city.

The coalition warplanes have bombed Raqqa around 150 times since Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group claimed the bombing is aimed to bolster an offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, who consist mostly of Arabs and Kurds.

SDF is advancing to Raqqa from Ain Issa, less than 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of the IS-held city. Several US ground troops were also participating in the attack, according to several reports.

IS had set up a few new checkpoints in Raqqa city and was "amassing its forces on the front lines" further north, anti-IS activist Hamoud al-Musa said.

The battle for Fallujah

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