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Mar 14, 2015 10:08 AM

Kurdish, Christian forces gain on IS in NE Syria battles

The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) Kurdish fighters and Christian militiamen are making gains against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, with intense clashes amid airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, an activist group and a Kurdish official said Saturday.

Nasser Haj Mansour, a defense official in Syria's Kurdish region, said the fighters captured the Christian village of Tal Maghas in Hassakeh province, which had been under the control of Islamic State militants. Haj Mansour and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the village was taken overnight.

They said airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, the first in the area in days, were targeting Islamic State positions near Tal Tamr village, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Tal Maghas. The Observatory and Haj Mansour reported intense clashes near Tal Tamr on Saturday.

The U.S. military said in a statement Saturday that an airstrike against Islamic State militants near the city of Hasakeh struck one tactical unit and destroyed a fighting position.

Syria's main Kurdish force, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, called Friday for air support from the U.S.-led coalition in Hassakeh province. The Islamic State group has been fighting YPG fighters and members of the Christian Syriac Military Council in Hassakeh for weeks, with dozens killed on both sides.

In the past months, U.S.-led airstrikes have helped YPG fighters push the Islamic State group out of some parts of northern Syria. Recently, weeks of airstrikes helped tip the balance against Islamic State fighters attacking the northern Syrian town of Kobani. Since then, YPG has regained full control of Kobani as well as dozens of surrounding villages.

The YPG has called on young men to join the battle, saying Islamic State group has brought in reinforcements from Syria and Iraq.

The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said government warplanes on Saturday conducted scores of air raids in different parts of Syria, killing and wounding dozens. One of the deadliest struck Douma, a rebel-held suburb of the capital Damascus, killing at least 12 people and wounding many others, the groups said.

Also Saturday, the Observatory, which has a network of activists around Syria, said a cousin of President Bashar Assad was shot dead in a dispute with an influential person in his northwestern hometown of Qardaha.

The Observatory did not give further details or name of the person who allegedly killed Mohammed Toufic Assad.

In a statement marking the beginning of the fifth year of Syria's conflict that has killed more than 220,000, U.N. refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie urged "governments around the world to put aside their differences and mount a new attempt to solve the conflict politically."

"I appeal for urgent steps to demonstrate that the international community is serious about accountability in Syria: to show that we will not turn a blind eye to war crimes, and that we will not fail refugees, the displaced and the survivors," she said.


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