IS recaptures key border stronghold from Syrian rebels

 11 Apr 2016 - 17:21

IS recaptures key border stronghold from Syrian rebels
IS soldiers rewrite the banner of Tawheed in al-Ra'i after it was wiped by rebels. @twitter

ISTANBUL: Islamic State militants recaptured a key stronghold from Syrian rebels on Turkey's border on Monday, activists said, just days after the extremist group was driven out by opposition fighters backed by U.S. and Turkish strikes. 

The jihadists seized the Syrian border town of Rai, roughly two miles from the Turkish border in Syria's Aleppo province, in a counterassault against rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The rebels had previously taken the town from the Islamic State on Thursday in what was hailed as a boost for U.S. and Turkish efforts to rout the extremists from Syrian territory along Turkey's frontier. 

But on Monday, the jihadists "managed to infiltrate" rebel front lines in the town, routing the Free Syrian Army fighters from the area, the Islamic State said in a statement posted online. The militants also claimed to have captured two antiaircraft guns and stockpiles of weapons left behind by the rebels. 

The Syrian rebels had "gathered on the orders of their masters, the Americans and the Turks, and with the support of [U.S. and Turkish] airplanes and artillery, the enemies of God controlled the town of al-Rai," the Islamic State statement said. 

"Then, the soldiers of the caliphate - with help only from God - managed to infiltrate the front lines" in Rai, the statement said. "God put fear into their hearts" and forced the rebels to flee, it said. 

In 2014, the Islamic State declared a caliphate straddling the Syrian and Iraqi borders, with its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Syria's 500-mile frontier with Turkey has provided the group with crucial supply routes for weapons, fighters and other goods. 

Rai is one of last border crossings controlled by the Islamic State, as its militants move to defend its strongholds in both Syria and Iraq. Analysts have said the jihadists are rapidly losing territory.

The United States has pressured Turkey, a fierce opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to move more aggressively against Islamic State positions. Last year, Turkey joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. 

The United States has been striking Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. 

Washington Post