Russian and Syrian warplanes pounded IS positions near Aleppo on Wednesday, a group monitoring the conflict said, trying to regain access to a strategic road whose fall to the militant group set back the allies’ advances before a scheduled truce.
IS has tightened its grip on the Syrian military’s only access route to Aleppo, the country’s largest city, according to the the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fighting through a network of activists on the ground. The militants also control at least 12 hilltops near the town of Khanaser, which they captured on Tuesday, and on the road linking Khanaser to Aleppo, it said. The route connects government-controlled territory in northwest, central and western Syria.
IS violence in Syria has surged since Russia joined the war on President Bashar Al Assad’s behalf in September, IHS Jane’s said in a report released on Wednesday. IS and other groups the United Nations lists as terrorists are excluded from the limited cease-fire brokered by the US and Russia, due to take effect on Feb. 27.
An estimated 270,000 Syrians have been killed and more than half of the country’s 23 million people have been displaced in five years of fighting. The violence sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Europe last year alone, prompting heated debate the region’s open-border policy.
Reducing the violence has become even more urgent amid concerns that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will become more heavily engaged. While Russia and Iran are backing Assad, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are part of a US-led coalition supporting various rebel groups, including some radicals.
Turkey’s Deputy PMNuman Kurtulmus warned on Wednesday of a widening war drawing in the powers’ allies more deeply. “If a humanitarian solution can’t be found to the problem in Syria and peace doesn’t prevail to everyone’s satisfaction, then the proxy war will not end, with these countries directly becoming sides to the war,” he said in a speech in Istanbul.
The exclusion of IS groups from the pact has dimmed expectations of major relief in the fighting. Assad deepened the skepticism by decreeing parliamentary elections for