Rockets fired from Syria land near Turkish airport
Turkish forces say they have responded to rocket attacks by bombarding ISIS positions in northern Syria
Two rockets fired Saturday from inside Syria landed near the international airport of Gaziantep, a major Turkish border city, although nobody was hurt, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.
One of the projectiles landed in a residential complex for employees of Oguzeli airport, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the city and another came down in scrubland, according to Dogan.
The rockets fell around 10:50 am (0750 GMT), the agency said, adding military officials and the governor of Gaziantep were inspecting the damage.
The nearby city of Kilis, just a handful of kilometres from the Syrian border, has been struck several times this year by rockets which Ankara says were fired by Islamic State fighters. Missiles rarely penetrate deeper into Turkish territory.
Those attacks have claimed at least 21 lives with more than 70 injured, including five on Friday.
Gaziantep lies around 30 km further north away from the border.
It was not clear if the rockets were “strays” from fighting in northern Syria or if they constituted a deliberate attack on the airport.
Several European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk visited Gaziantep only last month.
Turkish forces say they have responded to rocket attacks by bombarding ISIS positions in northern Syria.
ISIS militants entered a Syrian opposition stronghold in the country’s north on Saturday, marking the extremist group's most significant advance near the Turkish border in two years, Syrian opposition groups said.
More than 160,000 civilians are trapped in the fighting, which also forced the evacuation of one of the few remaining hospitals in the area, run by the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders.
On Saturday, ISIS fighters staged two suicide bombings targeting “opposition forces” near Marea, ISIS said via its news agency, Aamaq.
Following the suicide bombings, ISIS militants entered Marea and fighting began inside the town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition media outfit that tracks Syria’s civil war.
The territorial gains around the rebel strongholds of Marea and Azaz, north of Aleppo city, are a blow to the Turkey and Saudi-backed rebels, who have been struggling to retain a foothold in the region while being squeezed by opponents from all sides. They also demonstrated the ISIS group’s ability to stage major offensives and capture new areas, despite a string of recent losses in Syria and Iraq.
The ISIS offensive targeting Syrian opposition strongholds near the Turkish border began Thursday night.
On Friday, militants of the group captured six villages near Azaz, triggering intense fighting that trapped tens of thousands of civilians unable to flee to safety while Turkey’s border remains closed. A few hundred fled west to the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.
People are “terrified for their lives,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement. The group said it has received confirmed reports that at least four entire families, including women and children, were killed Friday on the outskirts of the town of Azaz.
The IRC runs centers for both children and women in Azaz and provides clean water and sanitation to a camp supporting 8,500 people. More than half the camp’s population has left to find safety elsewhere in the town, it said. The IRC also relocated its staff from the centers and camp to shelter to safer areas of Azaz until the situation enables them to return.
The UN refugee agency said it was “deeply concerned” about the fighting affecting thousands of vulnerable civilians.
“Fleeing civilians are being caught in crossfire and are facing challenges to access medical services, food, water and safety,” it said in a statement Saturday.
The advances brought the militants to within few kilometers of the rebel-held town of Azaz and cut off supplies to Marea further south. Marea has long been considered a bastion of moderate Syrian revolutionary forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
Azaz, which hosts tens of thousands of internally displaced people, lies north of Aleppo city, which has been divided between a rebel-held east and government-held west.
A route known as the Azaz corridor links rebel-held eastern Aleppo with Turkey. That has been a lifeline for the rebels since 2012, but a government offensive backed by Russian air power and regional militias earlier this year dislodged rebels from parts of Azaz and severed their corridor between the Turkish border and Aleppo.
The predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are fighting for their autonomy in the multilayered conflict, also gained ground against the rebels.
In recent months, Syrian rebel factions in Azaz — which include mainstream opposition fighters known as the Free Syrian Army along with some ultraconservative Islamic insurgent factions — have been squeezed between ISIS to the east and predominantly Kurdish forces to the west and south, while Turkey restricts the flow of goods and people through the border.
Turkish and US-led coalition airstrikes killed 104 Islamic State militants in retaliation for the latest attack on a Turkish border province, Turkish media reported on Saturday, citing military sources.
Pro-government Sabah Daily news reported five people were injured on Friday when rockets fired from ISIS controlled territory in northern Syria hit Turkey’s border province of Kilis.
Kilis has been hit by rockets from ISIS-controlled territory more than 70 times since January, killing 21 people including children, in what security officials say has gone from accidental spillover to deliberate targeting.
ISIS fighters captured more ground near the Turkish border from Syrian rebels on Friday, raising fears for a new wave of civilians fleeing the fighting.
Human rights groups have warned that the ISIS advance in Aleppo has left tens of thousands of displaced Syrians trapped along the closed Turkish border.
To the east in Raqa province, warplanes from the US-led coalition conducted air strikes on ISIS positions north of Raqa city, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
But the Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting the militants group north of its de facto Syrian capital had made no strategic progress on the ground, he said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
(With AP, Reuters and AFP)