AMMAN: The Islamic State and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are separately attacking the rebel-held city of Marea from three directions, local journalists told Syria Direct Thursday.
Located in the northern Aleppo countryside, Marea is controlled by a number of rebel factions including the Northern Front and the FSA-affiliated Aleppo Operations Room. It is encircled from the south and west by the SDF, and from the east by the Islamic State.
Marea, the easternmost rebel-held city in northern Aleppo, sits at a nexus of Islamic State and Kurdish territorial ambitions. The city has suffered Islamic State attacks for more than a year as a result of IS’s effort to expand its caliphate by moving west. Kurdish forces see Marea as a stepping stone in their campaign east into Islamic State territory, with the eventual goal of linking up Afrin and Kobani cantons.
IS mounted an attack on the city Wednesday, but the rebels “were able to fight them off,” Abu Khalid, a journalist embedded with Ahrar a-Sham in northern Aleppo told Syria Direct Thursday.
Rebels also repelled on Wednesday an assault by the SDF, a coalition made up primarily of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and went on to recapture points they had previously lost around Kaljabrin village northwest of the city, said Mumtaz Abu Mohammed, a citizen journalist in the northern countryside.
The latest round of attacks followed an offer this week from the SDF for rebels to hand over control of Marea without fighting, giving them an opportunity to leave the city unharmed. The rebels refused.
Over the past two weeks, SDF forces have made dramatic gains in north Aleppo by snatching up rebel territory. Setting out from Afrin canton, they have advanced 16km east to Tel Rifaat, and 18km northeast to the outskirts of Azaz city.
“The SDF and Jaish al-Thuwwar have taken advantage of rebels being busy fighting the regime in Nubl and Zahraa” to capture additional territory in the northern Aleppo countryside, Mohammed Najem a-Din, correspondent with pro-opposition Smart News, told Syria Direct last week.
Rebels fear that the SDF are trying to capture territory in northern Aleppo as part of a plan to create an uninterrupted belt of Kurdish-controlled territory on the border with Turkey.
“We in the YPG have a strategic goal, to link Afrin with Kobani,” Polat Can, a senior YPG official told US-based McClatchy last October. “We will do everything we can to achieve it.”
Commenting on the SDF and IS attacks on Marea, one Syrian journalist on the Turkish border believes that both sides are pursuing their state-building projects at the expense of the Syrian revolution.
“Every brigade is striving to build their dreams on our guts,” said Samer Dahduh Thursday.