Turkey-backed rebels capture Syrian town from Islamic State
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army cheer and react as they fight against the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Dabiq. Photograph: (AFP)
Syrian rebels said they captured the village of Dabiq from Islamic State on Sunday, forcing the jihadist group from a stronghold where it had promised to fight a final, apocalyptic battle with the West.
The rebels, backed by Turkish tanks and warplanes, also took neighbouring Soran, said Ahmed Osman, head of the Sultan Murad group, one of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions involved in the clashes on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
"The Daesh myth of their great battle in Dabiq is finished," he told Reuters, using a pejorative name for Islamic State.
An Islamic prophesy names Dabiq as the site of a battle between Muslims and infidels that will presage doomsday, a message used extensively in Islamic State's propaganda. The group also named a publication after the northwest village.
However, the jihadist group has appeared to back away from Dabiq's symbolism more recently after advances by Turkey-backed rebels put the village at risk of capture, saying this battle was not the one described in the prophesy.
"It seems like Daesh has mostly left the area," said a Turkish military source, but warning that the FSA groups still needed to clear landmines from the village.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, had said Islamic State brought 1,200 fighters to defend Dabiq.
Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation, bringing rebels backed by its own armour and air force into action against Islamic State, in August, aiming to clear the group from its border and stop Kurdish fighters gaining ground in that area.
Islamic State is also facing an expected offensive soon against its most important Iraqi possession, the city of Mosul, while the U.S.-backed, Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces also threaten to advance on its Syrian capital of Raqqa.