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Syria expands anti-Daesh operations   

Gulf Today - 03 February, 2017

Syria's military command announced it was expanding military operations against the Daesh group in the country's north on Thursday, a move that draws government forces closer to potential conflict with Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces fighting extremists in the region.

Syrian government forces have rapidly driven Daesh back in the last two weeks, advancing to within 6km of the city of Al Bab that the militants are fighting to hold.

The army’s gains risk sparking a confrontation with Turkey, which has sent tanks and warplanes across the border to support Syrian insurgents who are trying to seize Al Bab in a separate offensive.

Turkey’s offensive, launched last year, aims to drive both Daesh and Syrian Kurdish fighters away from its borders, as Turkey sees both groups as a security threat.

Syria’s military general command said government forces and their allies had recaptured more than 30 towns and villages from Daesh, and a 16km stretch of the highway that links Aleppo to Al Bab to the northeast.

“This achievement widens the secured areas around Aleppo city and is the starting point for (further) operations against,” a military spokesman said in a statement broadcast on state TV.

The military “confirms its commitment to protecting civilians and maintaining the unity of the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the statement added, in a remark apparently directed at Turkey.

Turkey’s offensive has brought the rebel factions it backs - some of which have also fought against President Bashar Al Assad’s forces in Aleppo - to the outskirts of Al Bab, according to a group that monitors the war.

Ankara last week denied that Turkey would hand over Al Bab to Assad after driving out Daesh.

A source in the military alliance fighting in support of Assad said on Wednesday the Syrian army aimed to reach Al Bab and was ready “to clash with the FSA fighting” alongside the Turkish army if necessary.

Turkey launched its “Euphrates Shield” campaign in Syria to secure its frontier from Daesh and halt the advance of the powerful Kurdish YPG militia. Helping rebels to topple Assad is no longer seen as a priority for Ankara.

The Euphrates Shield campaign has carved out an effective buffer zone controlled by Turkey-backed rebel groups, obstructing the YPG’s plans of linking up Kurdish controlled areas in northeastern and northwestern Syria.

The YPG, backed by the United States, is separately also battling Daesh, and Washington’s backing for the Kurdish fighters has created tension with Turkey.

Government forces clashed with the militants west of the historic city of Palmyra late on Wednesday, in an attempt to recover ground recently lost, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported.

The army made some progress and took over farmland around the village of Al Tayas, 50km west of Palmyra and near the T4 air base, but dozens of Syrian troops have been killed in the latest clashes in the area, the British-based Observatory said.

The militants seized Palmyra and some nearby oil fields in December for a second time in the nearly six-year Syrian conflict.

They had been driven out by the army and its allies in March.

Further southwest the army fought Daesh near the Al Seen military airport, the Observatory said.
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