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Islamic State Presses Offensive in Syria's North


Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces take an overwatch position in northern province of Raqqa, May 27, 2016.
Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces take an overwatch position in northern province of Raqqa, May 27, 2016.

Islamic State militants pressed their offensive Saturday in northern Syria against a major opposition stronghold, clashing with anti-government forces inside the town of Marea near the Turkish border.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the lightning IS strike north of Aleppo cut a main road linking Marea to the nearby opposition town of Azaz.

No further combat details were available late Saturday. But the Associated Press earlier in the day quoted the head of one of the last remaining hospitals in Marea as saying the town has been encircled and his hospital under threat since Friday.

"We need urgent protection for the hospital or a way out," physician Abdel Rahman Alhafez told the wire service in an email statement.

Raqqa, Syria
Raqqa, Syria

To the east, a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the United States pressed an offensive against fighters north of the IS stronghold city Raqqa. Turkish media reported U.S. airstrikes and Turkish artillery fire destroyed several buildings used as an IS headquarters in the city.

Monitors say Syrian army warplanes and helicopters pounded other opposition-held border area towns in Aleppo province Saturday, further pressuring embattled rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Analysts say the recent Islamic State territorial gains around Marea and Azaz have trapped more than 160,000 Syrian civilians between the Azaz-Marea region and the closed Turkish border about 20 kilometers to the north.

Elsewhere in the region, U.S. Special Operations forces and a coalition of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are reported clearing an area north of Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria.

On Friday, a Kurdish commander in the region told an embedded VOA reporter the SDF coalition had seized at least 10 area villages and was fighting extremists on three fronts north of Raqqa.

Local reports said IS fighters were preparing to defend the city with booby-trapped buildings, a string of trenches and berms.

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