Syria rebels near ISIS stronghold in N. Aleppo

Opposition groups have pushed back the extremist group along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Rebels fighting in northern Aleppo. (Facebook/Al-Moutasem Brigade)

BEIRUT – Rebel groups have reached the outskirts of a key ISIS stronghold along the Turkish-Syrian border after seizing a number of villages in a blistering offensive against the jihadist group.


“Rebels are four kilometers west of Al-Rai, the main ISIS base in the northern Aleppo countryside,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday morning.


The monitoring NGO tracking developments in Syria reported that the opposition groups in the past 24-hours have sized eight villages along a strip of territory on the Syrian-Turkish border that has witnessed fierce back-and-forth fighting.


Free Syrian Army-affiliated factions fighting under the banner of the Hawar Kilis Operations Room—named after a north Aleppo village—are looking to decisively turn the tide against ISIS in the region, having regained the border town of Doudiyan on March 18 after losing it more than once in recent weeks of see-saw battles against ISIS.


On midnight Thursday, rebel groups in the Hawar Kilis Operations Room—including the Turkish-backed Sultan Murad Division, Faylaq al-Sham, and the Al-Moutasem Brigade, among others—launched a major drive eastward from Doudiyan.


The insurgent groups have since successfully pushed ISIS out of approximately 70 square kilometers of territory with the support of Turkish artillery bombardment as well Coalition airstrikes on ISIS positions.


A video uploaded on April 3 shows fighting to take the northern Aleppo village of Tata Homs. (YouTube/Al-Moutasem Brigade)


The military commander of the Al-Moutasem Brigade spoke with Turkey’s state Anadolu news agency on the progress of the offensive, saying that the main goal of the operation was to take Al-Rai.


“Control of the town will allow opposition fighters to besiege the remaining ISIS sites in the northern Aleppo countryside and cut their supply routes,” Colonel Mohammad Hassan Khalil said.


He added that rebels would also use al-Rai as a “staging ground for launching future operations against ISIS in the east and south [of the town].”


According to the Al-Moutasem Brigade commander, the main obstacle to the rebels’ advance has been the improvised explosive devices, mines and other traps laid by retreating ISIS forces.


The rebels’ eastward drive against ISIS comes after a Syrian regime offensive in early February left them isolated within a thin corridor of territory stretching up to the key town of Azaz along the Turkish border.


Kurdish-led troops afterward further pressed the rebel groups in the pocket of territory, seizing the Mennagh airbase as well as a number of other positions.


Since the implementation of the cessation of hostilities in Syria in late February, clashes have subsided between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and north Aleppo rebels, leaving the latter free to focus their attention on ISIS. 


NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report.

Rebels fighting in northern Aleppo. (Facebook/Al-Moutasem Brigade)

Control of the town will allow opposition fighters to besiege the remaining ISIS sites in the northern Aleppo countryside.