ISTANBUL • Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in northern Syria are putting up "stiff resistance" to attacks by Turkish-backed rebel fighters, Turkey's military said yesterday, almost two months after it launched an incursion to drive them away from its border.
Supported by Turkish tanks and air strikes, the rebels have been pushing towards the ISIS stronghold of Dabiq. Clashes and air strikes over the past 24 hours had killed 47 militants, the military said in a statement.
"Due to stiff resistance of the Daesh terror group, progress could not be achieved in an attack launched to take four settlements," it said, naming the areas east of the town of Azaz as Kafrah, Suran, Ihtimalat and Duvaybik. Daesh is another name for ISIS.
However, the operation to drive the militants away from the Turkish border, dubbed "Euphrates Shield", had allowed the Turkish-backed rebels to take control of about 1,100 sq km of territory, the military said.
A Syrian rebel commander said the rebels were about 4km from Dabiq. He said capturing Dabiq and the nearby town of Suran would spell the end of ISIS' presence in the northern Aleppo countryside.
A planned major offensive on the ISIS-held city of al-Bab, an important strategic target south-east of Dabiq, depended on how quickly the rebels could take control of the 35km between the two cities, the commander said.
In Aleppo yesterday, at least 25 people were killed in fresh air strikes and artillery fire, one day after Russia stepped up its air raids in support of a Syrian army operation to recapture the rebel-held sector of the city.
In view of the latest bombings, Pope Francis appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Syria, calling for "at least" a truce enabling civilians, especially children, to be evacuated.
"I want to underline and reiterate my closeness to all the victims of the inhumane conflict in Syria," he said at his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican yesterday.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic row over Syria continued yesterday between France and Russia in the wake of Moscow's veto in the United Nations of a French-backed resolution on the violence in Aleppo.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called off a trip to Paris on Tuesday, yesterday accused France of pushing for the UN proposal at the weekend knowing that Russia would veto it. He blamed the US for leaning on Paris.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday dismissed criticism from opposition lawmakers of his government's handling of relations with Russia over Syria, saying Moscow had an "obstructive" and "unjustifiable" stance on the crisis.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE