Syria: Rebels, Kurds 'racing' to retake IS-held border town
Syrian rebels are preparing to launch an offensive on the Islamic State [IS] group-held frontier town of Jarabulus on the Turkish-Syrian border in an attempt to thwart recent Kurdish military successes and expansion, sometimes at the rebels' expense.
The US-backed Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] and Free Syrian Army [FSA] are now reportedly engaged in a "tight race" to retake the strategically important town.
"The SDF are now stationed 2 kilometres to the east of Jarabulus and 15 kilometres to the south after their advance on the city following the recapture of Manbij," local activist Firas Mohammad told The New Arab.
"Meanwhile Turkish-backed rebel factions have amassed their forces on the Turkish side of the border. It seems there is a tight race between the two sides to enter the frontier town."
Mohammad added that IS has evacuated the town this week of the families of its fighters, and sent them to the nearby jihadist-held town of al-Bab and its stronghold of Raqqa.
Local sources have reported that IS has surrounded the city with thousands of landmines in anticipation for the assault on the city, which has led to reports that the offensive could be delayed.
|[Click to enlarge]|
Jarabulus fell to IS in early 2014 and has since been used as the main transit point for fighters, money and weapons. It is the last major IS-held town on the border with Syria.
The SDF recently retook Manbij from IS - a key stop on the supply line between Raqqa and Jarabulus. FSA rebels also recently recaptured the border town of al-Rai from IS.
This week, Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters mostly drawn from Syria's northwestern rebel-held Idlib province and from the town of Azaz entered Turkey to prepare for the attack on Jarabulus.
The SDF's westward expansion against IS has worried Turkey, which believes the Kurds are extending their influence across northern Syria and attempting to connect the two separated Kurdish cantons.
Rebel commander Abu Hammoud of the FSA Division 13 told the The New Arab that rebels were standing up to a project to form an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria.
"Us taking the town will curb the malicious plot spun by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party [PYD] and its military arm the People's Protection Units [YPG] to divide Syria," Abu Hammoud claimed.
He added that should Kurdish forces attack Jarabulus first it would lead to a conflict with the Syrian opposition factions.
The SDF is dominated by the PYD, which is seen by Ankara as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] that has waged a bloody campaign against the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkey has backed the FSA in the fight against IS and has accused the US of turning a blind eye to the alleged links between the PKK and PYD.
Since Wednesday, the northeastern city of Hassakeh has been rocked by deadly clashes between Kurdish forces and fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
It has been the most violent confrontation between the two sides in more than five years of civil war.
This comes as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has vowed that Ankara will play a "more active" role in the next six months in efforts to solve the crisis
Yildirim said Assad can remain temporarily during a transition period as "he is one of the actors today no matter whether we like it or not".
Turkey is opposed to Syria's division along ethnic lines and hopes the future government will not be based on a single ethnic group and instead include Arabs, Kurds and Alawites.
Since the July 15 failed military coup, Turkey has sought to work with Iran and Russia on Syria's future.