Heavy clashes between Kurds and IS in northeastern Syria

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 2:25 PM

BEIRUT (AP) — Heavy clashes raged in northeastern Syria on Monday as Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants battled for control of a string of villages near the Iraqi and Turkish borders.

The Kurds have long been one of the most effective foes of the Islamic State group, a reputation they burnished in recent months by repelling a months-long IS assault against the town of Kobani on the Turkish frontier. The U.S.-led coalition carried out hundreds of airstrikes that helped the Kurds break the IS siege in January.

Monday's fighting focused in Hassakeh province in the extreme northeast of Syria, where IS militants took at least one village near the small town of Tal Tamr, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist collective said. Tal Tamr is some 85 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the provincial capital of Qamishli.

The SANA state news agency said the extremists attacked seven villages in all, forcing hundreds of people to flee.

The IS gains came a day after Kurdish militiamen from the People's Protection Units, or YPG, captured around 20 villages southeast of Qamishli in a new offensive against the Islamic State group. Heavy fighting broke out again Monday, activists said.

The U.S. military said coalition aircraft carried out 11 airstrikes against IS in Hassakeh on Sunday. In a statement released Monday, it said the air raids hit 10 IS tactical units and destroyed two IS vehicles, a bunker and a fighting position.

It was not clear whether the strikes were coordinated with the YPG.

Also Monday, an explosion at a checkpoint near the Damascus suburb of Sayeda Zeinab killed six people, the state news agency said. Sayeda Zeinab is home to a key Shiite Muslim shrine.

Northeast of the capital, meanwhile, a rocket struck a prison, killing four people and wounding more than 20, state media said. Most of those caught in the strike were visiting relatives being held at the facility in the suburb of Adra.