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SDF Pushes into ISIS Border Hub as Russian Planes Pound Aleppo | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke rises from villages in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

The Syrian Democratic Forces, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters, pushed further into the ISIS stronghold of Manbij on Saturday, seizing a key road junction and grain silos overlooking the city, a monitoring group said.

The city lies close to the border with Turkey and is a key staging post on the jihadists’ supply line to areas under its control in eastern Syria and neighboring Iraq.

SDF has thrust into Manbij after driving across the Euphrates River from the east, has encircled the city and is now closing in with the support of U.S.-led coalition air strikes.

The SDF overran the Mills Roundabout in the south of the city on Saturday after capturing nearby grain silos overnight, taking them significantly closer to the city center, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The grain silos overlook more than half of Manbij. SDF fighters can climb to the top and monitor the city,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Captured by ISIS in 2014, Manbij has served as a key transit point for foreign fighters and funds, as well as a trafficking hub for oil, antiquities and other plundered goods.

Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian warplanes pounded rebel-held areas of divided second city Aleppo as regime forces closed in on the rebels’ sole remaining supply line, the Observatory said.

Agence France Presse said the air strikes lasted throughout the night into the morning.

Aleppo, which was Syria’s commercial and manufacturing hub before civil war broke out in 2011, has been a key battleground ever since rebels seized eastern neighborhoods of the city the following year.

A two-day truce brokered by Moscow and Washington earlier this month in a bid to rescue a wider ceasefire expired without renewal and Russia warned it would press ahead with it air campaign.

The Russian strikes focused on the Castello Road, the only remaining route out of the rebel-held east of the city, the Observatory said.
“Russian planes are backing a Syrian regime ground offensive on the northern edges of the city, while Syrian planes bomb the eastern neighborhoods,” said Abdel Rahman.

A child was among two people killed in strikes on the rebel-held Al-Maysar neighborhood, the White Helmets civil defense group said.
The renewed regime offensive around Aleppo comes a day after another key ally, so-called Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, pledged to send more militants to join the “greatest battle” of the war.