Kurdish-Arab alliance pushes ISIS back in north Syria: spokesman

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces gathering around the al-Khatoniyah lake area after they took control of it from ISIS, on Nov 14, 2015.
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces gathering around the al-Khatoniyah lake area after they took control of it from ISIS, on Nov 14, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (AFP) - An alliance of Kurdish and Arab rebels advanced on Thursday against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria's north in a new offensive backed by US-led air strikes, its spokesman said.

Talal Sello, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP that the SDF offensive was launched late on Wednesday in Aleppo province.

"The battle now is aimed at the liberation of areas south of the town of Sarrin... to the Tishreen Dam" on the Euphrates River, Sello said.

Kurdish forces pushed ISIS out of Sarrin in July.

SDF fighters, which predominantly hail from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), had advanced to within 12km from the dam by Thursday, according to Sello.

The dam, been held by ISIS since 2014, helps generate electricity for large parts of Aleppo province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

ISIS also controls the Euphrates' western bank - from the northernmost point at Jarablus, which lies on the Syrian-Turkish border, south and further east all the way to Raqa.

Manbij and Al-Bab, the ISIS strongholds in Aleppo province, lie west of the river as well.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have made gains against ISIS south of those towns.

"Fierce clashes are continuing along the eastern banks of the Euphrates," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Thursday.

He confirmed that the SDF had advanced along the banks, but said most of the territory captured consisted of small villages.

Sello said the SDF was receiving backing from the US-led coalition, that is conducting an air war against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

A coalition statement on Thursday said that strikes conducted the previous day hit near Manbij and destroyed an ISIS fighting position and a logistics facility.

Formed in October, the SDF has scored a series of successes against ISIS in north-eastern Syria and appears to be extending its operations further west.