AMMAN: Turkish-backed Syrian rebels captured the religiously symbolic north Aleppo town of Dabiq from Islamic State (IS) fighters on Saturday, Free Syrian Army (FSA) sources told Syria Direct, “shattering the IS myth of an epic battle” there heralding the end of days.
“We have been able to liberate Dabiq, shattering the IS myth of an epic battle there,” Mahmoud Abu Hamzah, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Ahfad Salaheddin told Syria Direct on Sunday.
In Islamic eschatology, Dabiq, a small town roughly 40km northeast of Aleppo city and 8km south of the Syrian border with Turkey, is one possible site of an epic, apocalyptic battle between “the Romans” and a Muslim army of “the best people of the earth,” according to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad regarding the end of days.
Turkish-backed FSA rebels in the north Aleppo countryside near Dabiq on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Euphrates Shield.
Losing Dabiq removes the “pretext of the great battle used by IS to lie to its fighters for a long time,” said FSA commander Abu Hamzah.
Islamic State fighters captured Dabiq from Syrian rebels in August 2014, and the town features prominently in IS propaganda, including a glossy online magazine with the same name.
However, as Turkish-backed FSA rebels moved closer to capturing Dabiq over the past seven weeks, IS appears to have deemphasized the symbolic importance of Dabiq in its propaganda. This September, the group launched a new propaganda magazine, called Rumiyah.
Last week, an article in al-Naba, an online IS newspaper, dismissed the importance of the impending loss of Dabiq.
The Turkish-backed forces “have built up in the Aleppo countryside,” read the article, “claiming that desecrating Dabiq under their unclean feet and their sinful flags will be a moral victory.”
However, “these hit-and-run battles in Dabiq and its surroundings are the lesser Dabiq battle,” read the article, differentiating between current fighting in northern Aleppo and “the great, epic battle of Dabiq.”
Sunday’s advances and the ongoing battles in north Aleppo are part of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation, an offensive launched on August 24 to clear IS from Turkey’s southern border with Syria and limit Kurdish territorial expansion in the same area.
The villages captured by the FSA on Sunday are in blue. Photo courtesy of Liwa Moutasem.
Since late August, FSA forces backed by Turkish special forces, warplanes and tanks have driven IS from a wide swathe of territory south of the border.
Dabiq is one of 13 villages captured by the FSA in the past 72 hours, commander Abu Hamzah told Syria Direct.
In the latest battles, IS has relied heavily upon roadblocks comprised of landmines and trenches, as well as “snipers and foreign suicide bombers,” Captain Abdelsalam Abdelrazq, the military spokesman for the FSA’s Nour e-Din a-Zinki told Syria Direct on Sunday. The IS tactics produced casualties on both sides, he said.
Dabiq is both a symbolic and strategic advance for the FSA in the Turkish-backed north Aleppo battles, said Abdelsalam.
Taking the town “means taking away Daesh’s pretext through which it gathered foreign fighters from all over the world,” he said. At the same time, it connects territory already held by the FSA and is “within the framework of our battles as a whole to liberate Syria from tyranny and terrorists.”
After taking Dabiq, the next step in the offensive is the capture of al-Bab, rebel spokesmen told Syria Direct on Sunday, a well-fortified IS stronghold roughly 26km to the southeast.