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Syrian Kurds advance on 'IS'

February 15, 2015

Syrian Kurdish forces backed by rebels have reportedly taken a hill in Raqqa province, a stronghold of "IS" militants. The report comes as a video is released purportedly showing the beheading of Egyptian Christians.

Members of the Syrian Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) celebrate their victory in Kobane, Syria, 26 January 2015. According to reports Kurdish fighters claim to have pushed militants from the group calling themselves Islamic State (IS) out of the whole of Kobane following four months of fighting, supported by airstrikes carried out by an international anti-IS coalition, though a number of the town's surrounding villages, close to the Syrian-Turkish border, remain in the hands of IS. EPA/STR +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++ pixel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Str

Kurdish forces fighting alongside Syrian insurgent groups have for the first time extended their attacks into Raqqa province, which is held by the jihadist "Islamic State" (IS) group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.

The Observatory, which monitors the conflict in Syria through sources on the ground, said the Kurds and other opponents of IS had taken a hill in Raqqa province south of the border town of Kobani.

"It is the first time they get into Raqqa," Rami Abdulrahman, the founder of the Observatory, said.

He added that at least 35 IS fighters had been killed on Sunday in battles near Kobani along with four members of the Kurdish forces, saying that the US-led coaltion fighting the jihadist group had also carried out air strikes in the region.

On Saturday, the Observatory said the Kurds had recaptured at least 163 villages around Kobani in the three weeks since they drove IS fighters out of the town on January 26.

Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, was a focus of fierce fighting for several months as IS militants attempted to capture the town to cement their grip on territory along the Syria-Turkey border.

The IS group has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, establishing its de-facto capital in the provincial capital of Raqqa.

First IS attack in Libya

The reports of the Kurdish advances come as a video was released on Sunday by Libyan militants calling themselves the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State that purportedly shows the mass beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages.

The video, which appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports IS, shows several handcuffed hostages being beheaded by black-suited militants on a seashore.

A spokesman for the Coptic Church was quoted by Egypt's state news agency MENA as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to have been held in Libya by IS for more than a month were dead.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared seven days of mourning.

Thousands of Egyptians have sought jobs in the neighboring country despite government advice not to go to a nation that is becoming increasingly lawless.

tj/bw (Reuters, AFP, AP)