Syria army, Kurds push IS out of Hasakeh city: monitor

Beirut (AFP) - Syrian troops and Kurdish fighters ousted the Islamic State group from Hasakeh, more than a month after the jihadists attacked the northeastern city, a monitoring group said.

On the political front, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is due to brief the Security Council Wednesday, while UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said he would visit Damascus in a bid to secure better humanitarian access to Syrians most in need.

Throughout its rise to power during 2013 and its announcement of an Islamic "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria last summer, IS has presented itself as unstoppable.

The ultra-radical Sunni group has used terror and mass executions to help seize territory in Syria's north, including the group's de facto capital in Raqa, and the country's east, where it has captured most of resource-rich Deir Ezzor province.

But in recent months it has experienced a series of defeats at the hands of Kurdish fighters in northern and northeastern Syria. The jihadists' only major victory was its May capture of the ancient town of Palmyra.

Now the IS assault on Hasakeh city, which began on June 25, has ended in defeat after 33 days.

"The Syrian army pushed IS out of Zuhur, the last neighbourhood where it was present in Hasakeh city, on Tuesday," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 287 IS fighters were killed in Hasakeh, either in clashes with troops and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) or in US-led coalition airstrikes, the Observatory said.

- Child soldiers -

IS's death toll also included at least 26 child soldiers, according to the Britain-based monitor, which uses a network of sources throughout war-torn Syria.

"IS is depending more on children for suicide operations. And we saw the effect of that, since 10 percent of IS members killed in the fight for Hasakeh city were children," Abdel Rahman said.

The jihadists had used at least 21 car bombs and "several suicide bombers" in its advance into the city.

According to the Observatory, 120 regime loyalists and dozens of YPG fighters were also killed.

State news agency SANA said Syria's armed forces "dealt great blows to the Daesh (IS) terrorists... in a special operation against the terrorist hotbeds" in Zuhur on Tuesday.

Control of Hasakeh is divided between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the Kurdish YPG.

IS had attacked regime-controlled neighbourhoods in the city's south, but the YPG helped eject IS from several of these areas.

Since the beginning of Syria's uprising in March 2011, its Kurdish minority had adopted a neutral position.

When government forces withdrew from Kurdish areas in some parts of the north and northeast, Kurdish authorities established autonomous local administrations to fill the void.

- 'Continuous retreat' -

As IS sought to advance in northern Syria, the YPG became one of the main fighting forces pushing back against the jihadists. They expelled IS from Kobane, a key town on the Turkish border, in late January.

Since then, Abdel Rahman told AFP, "we haven't seen any major IS victories with the exception of the battle at Palmyra. There has been a continuous retreat for IS forces since February".

He called the group's month-long assault on Hasakeh a "major loss", as IS lost many military commanders in the fight, including its provincial "wali" or governor.

On Monday, Kurdish forces also cut off an IS supply route between the jihadists' bastion of Raqa and their military fronts in Aleppo province.

And in June, Kurdish militia dealt the jihadists a resounding blow at Tal Abyad, a border town that IS had used as a transit point for supplies and fighters.

Abdel Rahman said the loss of Tal Abyad seriously damaged IS's access to both, and has led to the group's recent losses.

Air strikes by the international coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq have also contained the group, he said.

In the northwest, Islamist rebel groups and Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate have begun an offensive on the edge of the coastal province of Latakia, home of the Assad clan, activists said.

More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria's multi-front war.

O'Brien, meanwhile, said on Tuesday he hoped to secure better humanitarian access to Syrians in need, and added that he hoped to visit Homs in western Syria on a trip to the country next month.

The UN's aid chief said more than a million people had been displaced so far this year, many for a second or third time, and urged donors to step up their support for aid efforts.

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