Syria conflict: Rebels ‘capture’ IS stronghold of Dabiq

Rebel fighters advanced on Dabiq on Saturday. PHOTO: AFP

TURKISH-backed rebels have captured the symbolically important Syrian town of Dabiq from the Islamic State group, rebel commanders and monitors say.
The rebels took Dabiq after “IS members withdrew”, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The small northern town holds great value for IS because of a prophecy of an apocalyptic battle, and features heavily in its propaganda.
The advance on Dabiq is part of a wider offensive by Syrian rebel groups.
Ahmed Osman, the commander of the Sultan Murad rebel group, told Reuters news agency on Sunday morning that the group had also recaptured the neighbouring village of Soran.
The battle for Dabiq has been building for weeks – with one village after another being seized from IS by rebel fighters backed by Turkish airstrikes.
In the end, it seems to have fallen swiftly after the announcement of the final assault on Saturday.
Strategically, it’s not a major prize. But IS has embraced it as a symbol of its apocalyptic vision of all-out confrontation with its enemies.
The town is named in one Hadith – or saying by the Prophet Mohammed – as the site of the climactic battle between Muslims and non-Muslims before the end of the world. The group named its online magazine after it, but has downplayed its significance recently, saying this battle is not the epic that was prophesied.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 1,200 IS fighters had been brought in to defend Dabiq.
A commander of one rebel group, the Hamza Brigade, told the Associated Press that resistance from IS was “minimal”.
Saif Abu Bakr said IS withdrew towards the larger town of Al-Bab to the south.
He said about 2,000 rebel fighters were involved in the offensive.
They were supported by Turkish tanks and artillery, and airstrikes from international coalition warplanes.
Dabiq is just 10km (six miles) from the border with Turkey.
In August, Turkey launched an offensive to clear the border region of militants, meaning both IS and Kurdish rebels fighting IS.
In September, the Turkish prime minister said the 91km borderline was “entirely secured” and “all the terrorist organisations were pushed back”.
A war that started with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has now split Syria into many parts. It has been going on for more than five years and it has claimed 300,000 lives.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting the foreign ministers of France and Germany as part of a renewed attempt to broker peace in Syria.
Last month a ceasefire collapsed after just a few days and since then Syrian forces, backed by Russia, have been bombing the city of Aleppo, which has become the epicentre of the conflict.
On Saturday Mr Kerry met the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, along with representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all of which countries back distinct groups in the long-running war.
No concrete deal or ceasefire was forthcoming but both the US and Russia spoke of “ideas” emerging.