The Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, pushed Thursday into ISIS’ bastion city of Manbij where they fought the militants, a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy clashes were taking place in western districts of Manbij that lies in northern Syria after the fighters swept into the city near the Kutab roundabout, almost 2km from the city Centre.
The (SDF), including a Kurdish group and Arab allies that joined it last year, launched the campaign late last month with the backing of U.S. special forces to drive ISIS from its last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish frontier.
If successful it could cut the militants’ main access route to the outside world, paving the way for an assault on their Syrian capital Raqqa.
Manbij is in a region some 40 km from the Turkish border and since the start of the offensive on May 31, the SDF has taken dozens of villages and farms around it but had held back from entering the city with many thousands of people still trapped there.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, whose Britain-based group relies on a broad network of sources inside Syria to monitor the country’s conflict, said there was “fierce street fighting between buildings” in Manbij and that at least two SDF fighters had died when a bomb went off in a residential building.
Abdel Rahman said the SDF was able to break through ISIS’ defenses a few hours after taking control of a village on the city’s southwestern outskirts.
He said progress was likely to be slow as SDF forces were facing booby-traps “planted by the jihadists to try to prevent the loss of the city.”
Meanwhile, at least eight civilians were killed in Aleppo when airstrikes and mortar shells struck different neighborhoods in opposite sides of the divided city, anti-regime activists and Syrian state media reported.
In past months, Aleppo has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting and bombardment, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of people on both sides of the contested city. Partial cease-fires have failed to hold in the city that has been divided between rebel and government areas since 2012.
Backed by Russian airstrikes, regime forces have nearly encircled rebel-held parts of the city in recent months. A corridor out of the city accessible to the rebel-held areas has also come under intense bombing.
A cease-fire announced by the Russians last week didn’t survive its 48 hours.
On Thursday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said four people were killed and four others wounded when rocket shells hit the regime-controlled al-Khalidia district in Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the anti-regime Aleppo Media center said four civilians were killed when airstrikes hit the rebel-held al-Katerji neighborhood. Bebars Mishal, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense, a team of volunteer first responders operating in rebel-held areas, said the airstrike hit a residence, putting the number of those killed at five members of the same family. He said the search continued for others under the rubble.