BEIRUT: Fighters of the militant Islamic State group succeeded on Sunday in expelling Syrian regime forces from the eastern town of Mayadeen, days after they entered the key remaining jihadist stronghold, a monitor said.

Backed by Russian air power, regime forces had managed to fight their way into western Mayadeen on Friday.

“Counter-offensives by IS managed to force the regime fighters away from the western outskirts of Mayadeen,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the Syrian forces were now some six kilometres from the town, which was being targeted by “intensive air strikes carried out by both regime and Russian aircraft”.

IS has controlled Mayadeen in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor since 2014.

The town is on the western bank of the Euphrates River, between provincial capital Deir Ezzor, where the jihadists still hold several districts, and the border with Iraq.

Many of the IS jihadists who fled an offensive by US-backed forces against the group’s de facto Syrian capital Raqa have decamped to the towns of Mayadeen and Albu Kamal in the Euphrates Valley. The jihadists are being pressed by twin offensives in eastern Syria: by Russia-backed regime forces and by US-supported Arab-Kurd alliance the Syrian Democratic Forces.

11 die in market air strike

At least 11 civilians including two children were killed on Sunday in air strikes on a market in northwestern Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes on the market in Idlib province’s Maaret al-Numan were probably carried out by regime forces.

Much of Idlib province, including Maaret al-Numan, is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.

Idlib is one of four so-called “de-escalation” zones under a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran in May. However, the HTS is not party to the agreement.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said “military aircraft” had targeted the market in Maaret al-Numan, blaming the regime for the strike. “At least 11 people were killed including two children,” he said. “There are around 20 wounded and the toll of victims could rise.” The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria, and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

The Observatory said that on Friday and Saturday, at least 13 civilians died in suspected regime air strikes around Khan Sheikhun, the site of a deadly April chemical attack.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017

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