Islamic State under pressure as Kurds seize Syrian town

Kurds push Islamic State back towards Iraqi border but fate of abducted Assyrian Christians unknown.


SAID TO BE TEL HAMIS, AL-HASSAKEH AREA, SYRIA (SAID TO BE FEBRUARY 27, 2015) (SOCIAL MEDIA) – Kurdish forces dealt a blow to Islamic State by capturing an important town on Friday (February 27) in the latest stage of a powerful offensive in northeast Syria, a Kurdish militia spokesman said.

Islamic State has been forced into retreat across parts of the strategic region, a land bridge between territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, even as its fighters have mounted new raids this week on Assyrian Christian villages, abducting more than 200 people.

The capture of Tel Hamis was announced by the Kurdish YPG militia and confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s civil war.

Video relased on social media purports to show the battle for Tel Hamis raging. Filmed by the Ragihandina YPG (YPG Media Center), the video shows fighters behind a large earth bank before advancing and taking cover behind walls of buildings said to be in Tel Hamis. Loud and constant gunfire is heard.

Reuters is unable to independently verify the content of this video, which has been obtained from a social media website.

“The flag is flying over Tel Hamis. We are now combing the city for terrorists and mines,” militia spokesman Redur Xelil told Reuters.

“Daesh continue to have a considerable number of territories and forces. But we can say we have stopped its advance,” Xelil said, using the Arabic acronym of Islamic State

The British-based Observatory said Kurdish forces killed at least 175 members and commanders of the ultra-hardline Islamist militants in an offensive which began last weekend.

The Observatory’s head Rami Abdulrahman said the Kurds, with backing from U.S.-led air strikes, have taken at least 103 villages in the area and are now in the village of Suleima on the border with Iraq.

The United States and its allies have carried out hundreds of air strikes in Iraq and Syria since launching a campaign to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State, which last year declared a “caliphate” on territory it has captured in both countries.

The U.S.-led coalition has launched 20 strikes against Islamic State in Syria since early Thursday, its Combined Joint Task Force said on Friday.

The Kurdish YPG militia has been one of Islamic State’s toughest enemies in Syria. Last month it flushed the group out of Kobani on the Turkish border, breaking the militants’ four-month siege of the town with the help of U.S. and allied air support and Iraqi Kurdish reinforcements on the ground.

Since then, Kurdish forces backed by other Syrian armed groups have pursued Islamic State fighters as far their provincial stronghold of Raqqa.