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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

ISIL loses 50 fighters defending Kobani

The deaths in Kobani came after ISIL militants launched an unprecedented attack against the border crossing separating the Syrian Kurdish town from Turkey.

BEIRUT // ISIL militants battling for control of the Syrian border town Kobani have suffered some of their heaviest losses in 24 hours of clashes and US-led strikes.

At least 50 militants were killed in the embattled town, in suicide bomb attacks, clashes with Kobani’s Kurdish defenders and the airstrikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.

The Britain-based monitor also reported that the US-led coalition battling the ISIL hit at least 30 targets in and around Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital.

Meanwhile, Syrian government aircraft targeted a southern town with a series of airstrikes on Sunday, killing at least a dozen people including women and children, activists said.

The Local Coordination Committees activist collective and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights both reported the strikes on Jasim in the southern province of Daraa.

There were no immediate details of a toll in the Raqqa strikes, which the Observatory said was one of the larger waves of raids by the coalition since it began its campaign in Syria in September.

The deaths in Kobani came on Saturday after ISIL militants launched an unprecedented attack against the border crossing separating the Syrian Kurdish town from Turkey.

Kurdish officials and the Observatory alleged the attack was launched from Turkish soil, a claim dismissed by the Turkey army as “lies.”

The Observatory said at least five ISIL militants were killed in suicide bombings in Kobani, including two in the attacks on the border.

Another 11 were killed in clashes by the border that erupted after the double bombing.

There was no breakdown for the remaining ISIL toll, though the Observatory added that 11 Kurdish fighters and one Syrian rebel backing them were killed in clashes in the town.

ISIL began advancing on Kobani on September 16, hoping to quickly seize the small border town and secure its grip on a large stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border, followed advances it made in Iraq.

At one point, it looked set to overrun the town, but Kurdish Syrian fighters, backed by US-led coalition air strikes and an influx of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, have held back the group.

In Raqqa province, the US-led coalition carried out strikes against at least 30 ISIL targets on the northern outskirts of Raqqa city and struck Division 17, a Syrian army base militants captured earlier this year.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the strikes had caused casualties but there was no immediate toll.

“We can’t say it’s the largest set of raids they have carried out, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this number of targets hit,” he said.

The Local Coordination Committees said the strikes in Daraa were barrel bombs — large canisters packed with explosives and metal scraps — that cause massive damage on impact. It said at least 12 people were killed, including women and children.

The Observatory put the death toll at 17. That figure included five women and one young girl. It said the air raids were carried out by warplanes, not helicopters.

Both groups also reported government airstrikes on the nearby town of Nawa, which opposition forces captured earlier this month. There was no immediate word on casualties there.

Syrian rebels have advanced in southern Syria over the past two months, seizing a string of towns from president Bashar Al Assad’s forces.

The US-led coalition began carrying out air strikes against ISIL on September 23, and stepped up raids in Kobani in a bid to prevent it falling to ISIL.

On Thursday, the coordinator of the US-led coalition, said at least 600 ISIL fighters had been killed in air strikes and that the group had made easy targets of its fighters by pouring them into Kobani.

“ISIL has in so many ways impaled itself on Kobani,” said retired US general John Allen.

But Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, speaking from Russia after meeting with key regime ally president Vladimir Putin, said the US-led strikes were having little effect.

“Is Daesh weaker today after two months of coalition strikes? All the indicators show that it is not,” he told the pan-Arab Al Mayadeen news channel.

He said unless Turkey closed its border to Islamists, the group would be unharmed by the US-led strikes.

Damascus has regularly accused Turkey of supporting “terrorism” because of its support for the Syrian opposition.

Turkey denies the allegations, but has made no secret of its backing for the opposition, with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for Mr Al Assad to step down.

Despite their differences, Mr Erdogan is set to receive key Assad regime ally Mr Putin in Ankara on Monday for talks about the conflict, which began in March 2011, and has killed nearly 200,000 people.

* Agence France-Presse and Associates Press