Syria, Iraq team up, strike ISIS bases

The Syrian army in coordination with Baghdad is striking bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in border areas

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Syria’s army has been striking for 24 hours major bases of the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in coordination with Baghdad’s government, Agence France-Presse reported a monitor as saying Sunday.

The strikes against ISIS - which have spearheaded a week-long jihadist offensive in Iraq - have been more intense than ever, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The regime air force has been pounding ISIS’s bases, including those in the northern province of Raqqa and Hasakeh in the northeast,” which borders Iraq, said the Britain-based group.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was responding to the fact that ISIS “brought into Syria heavy weapons including tanks” captured from the Iraqi army, the monitor added.

In the northern ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa, the air force bombed the area surrounding ISIS’s main headquarters, as well as the group’s religious courts, said the Observatory, adding there were no reported casualties.

Photographs sent by activists in Raqqa that could not be independently verified showed craters in the ground and rubble in front of the main gates of the headquarters, a former town hall.

On Saturday, the regime also bombarded ISIS’s headquarters at Shaddadi in Hasakeh in the northeast of the country, home to a frontier crossing from Iraq that is under the jihadists’ control.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the strikes were the regime’s most “intense” against ISIS, and that they were being carried out “in coordination with the Iraqi authorities.”

Raqqa, the first and only Syrian city to fall to insurgents since Syria’s conflict began more than three years ago, has been a major base for ISIS since it evicted rival rebels including al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate during infighting this year.

The government in Baghdad has been gearing up for a counter-offensive against ISIS in areas where it and other Islamist militants have advanced in northern Iraq in the past week.

As the rapid advance south by ISIS towards Baghdad appeared to slow over the weekend, fierce fighting erupted in the town of Tal Afar 60 km (40 miles) west of Mosul near the Syrian border, security sources and a local official told Reuters.

The insurgent offensive that has threatened to dismember Iraq spread to the northwest of the country on Sunday, when Sunni militants launched a dawn raid on a town close to the Syrian border, clashing with police and government forces.

ISIS, coupled with local rebels wanting an end to Maliki’s rule as well as Baathists, shocked Iraq’s government when they took over the country’s second largest city of Mosul earlier this week.

Pictures distributed on a purported ISIS Twitter account from Salahuddin province appeared to show dozens of men lying on the ground and being shot by groups of gunmen. “This is the fate of the Shiites which Nuri brought to fight the Sunnis,” a caption to one of the pictures reads.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have killed 279 “terrorists” in the past 24 hours, as they push back against a major militant offensive, AFP reported a security spokesman as saying on Sunday.

Maliki’s security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta made the announcement during a televised news conference.

In Baghdad on Sunday, a suicide attacker detonated explosives in a his bomb-laden vest, killing at least nine people and wounding 20 in a crowded street in the center of the capital, police and medical sources said.

At least six people were killed, including three soldiers and three volunteers, when four mortars landed at a recruiting center in Khlais, 50 km (30 miles) north of Baghdad.

Volunteers were gathered by the army to join fighting to regain control of the northern town of Udhaim from ISIS militants.

They were some of the thousands who responded to a call by the country’s most influential Shiite cleric to take up arms and defend the country against the hardline insurgents, many of whom consider Shiites as heretics.

ISIS espouses a radical interpretation of Islam, and aims to set up a Islamic caliphate stretching across the Syria-Iraq border. It has been accused of committing widespread human rights abuses in Syria.

Once welcomed in Syria by rebels seeking Assad’s overthrow, the well-armed and well-organized ISIS soon gained the Syrian opposition’s wrath because of its quest for hegemony and systematic rights abuses.

In 2013, it took part in operations against government forces. But in recent months, it has exclusively fought against the Syrian rebels, who accuse the group of serving the interests of Assad’s regime.

A war pitting Syrian rebels against ISIS has killed more than 6,000 people, mostly fighters, since it broke out in January.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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