IS advances on Aleppo despite Russian air strikes

Source:AFP Published: 2015-10-10 0:38:02

The Islamic State (IS) group fighters advanced Friday on Syria's second city Aleppo despite more than a week of Russian air strikes that Moscow claims are aimed at routing the jihadists.

The jihadist gains came as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian bombing and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, intensified an offensive against militants in the northwest.

Russia's air force hit 60 IS targets in the last 24 hours in Syria, RIA news agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying on Friday.

However, Western governments say the vast majority of Russian strikes have targeted rebel groups other than IS in a bid to defend President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that "80 to 90 percent" of Russian strikes in Syria were aimed at propping up Assad, Moscow's long-term ally.

He was speaking after French warplanes carried out new strikes overnight on IS targets in Syria, where Paris launched its first raids on September 27.

"Two Rafale jets dropped bombs on an IS training camp. The objectives were accomplished," he told Europe 1 radio, adding that further air strikes would follow.

The IS militants reached their closest position yet to Aleppo in northern Syria at dawn on Friday after hours of ferocious fighting with rival opponents of Assad, a monitoring group reported.

IS militants drove out rebels from the localities of Tall Qrah, Tall Soussin, Kafar Qares and the base of Madrasat al-Mushat, he said.

The seizure of these positions brought the jihadists to about 20 kilometers from the front line where forces loyal to Assad are positioned, including the Sheikh Najjar industrial zone.

US President Barack Obama will overhaul Washington's approach to supporting Syrian rebel forces following the launch of a US military training program, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday.

Carter hinted the new approach would focus more on enabling forces already on the ground to battle IS. The original US military effort sought to train entire units outside Syria.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced that one of its senior commanders was killed by IS in the Aleppo region on Thursday.

General Hossein Hamedani was killed "during an advisory mission," a Guards statement said, adding that Hamedani had been playing an "important role ... reinforcing the front of Islamic resistance against the terrorists."

Shiite-dominated Iran is a staunch ally of Assad, sending Guards forces and military advisers to aid him against Sunni Muslim rebels seeking his overthrow.

Hezbollah has done much of the fighting to prop up the Syrian army, though the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign wing, Qassem Soleimani, is said to be heavily involved in guiding military strategy.

The conflict began as an uprising against Assad's rule in 2011 but has splintered into a multi-faceted civil war involving government troops, Western-backed rebels, jihadists and Kurdish forces.

Posted in: Mid-East

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