ANKARA • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been expelled from its last positions on the Turkish-Syrian border while Syrian forces again laid siege to rebel strongholds in war-torn Aleppo.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Sunday said his nation's forces and Syrian rebels had pushed back "terrorist organisations" on its southern border with Syria, depriving ISIS of a key transit point for recruits and supplies.
"From Azaz to Jarabulus, our 91km border has been completely secured," Mr Yildirim said during a televised speech while visiting the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier said "rebels and Islamist factions backed by Turkish tanks and warplanes" had taken several villages on the Turkish-Syrian border "after ISIS withdrew from them, ending ISIS' presence... on the border".
Ankara began the operation inside Syria on Aug 24. The sweep means the militants' last access to the outside world has been severed. Since 2013, when the group announced its formation, it has had territory bordering a Nato state - Turkey. Its removal from the border marks a symbolically important moment in the war against ISIS, which had long relied on its access to Turkey for recruits and supplies.
Turkey's success is likely to deliver a blow to the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which has been gaining territory in Syria's north after working with the US-led coalition against the militant force. But Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist" group and has been alarmed by its expansion along the border.
The news comes as Syrian government troops renewed the siege of rebel-held parts of Aleppo. State media said the army and allied forces had taken an area south of Aleppo, severing the sole route left into the eastern neighbourhoods held by the opposition. "The armed forces in cooperation with their allies took full control of the military academy zone south of Aleppo and are clearing the remaining terrorists from the area," state TV said.
The development leaves about 250,000 people living in rebel-controlled parts of the city cut off from the outside world once again and will raise new fears about a humanitarian crisis.
Top diplomats from the United States and Russia yesterday failed to reach a deal to provide aid to ravaged civilians in Aleppo, and at least partially halt bombardments from Syria and Russia, which began an aerial campaign in support of the Syrian government last September.
A senior US State Department official said fresh crisis talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in China ended without agreement. US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin also met on the sidelines of the summit, where they agreed to continue talks.
Underscoring the need to stem the violence, a string of bomb attacks hit mostly government-controlled areas of Syria yesterday, killing at least 48 people, with 35 of them from a double bombing outside of the government stronghold of Tartus. Other attacks hit Homs, an army checkpoint on a road outside Damascus, and a Kurdish security forces checkpoint in Hasakeh.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts, but ISIS had regularly targeted several of the areas hit.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST