Two key towns and several villages near Syria’s northern border with Turkey have been captured by Islamic State (IS) fighters after pushing out rival fighters in fierce clashes, opposition groups and activists said.
Activists said fighters from the group captured the towns of Akhtarin and Turkmanbareh after fierce clashes with rebels who are fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The IS fighters also took a string of nearby villages over which they had been fighting, including Masoudiyeh, Dabiq and Ghouz.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 31 rebels and eight Islamic State group fighters were killed in the clashes. The Observatory relies on a network of activists inside Syria for its information.
The capture of Akhtarin has strategic significance as the town is “the gate to the northern countryside of Aleppo,” said a local rebel commander who goes by the name Abu Thabet.
It seems the Islamic State group’s ultimate goal, he said, was to reach Marea, a town a few kilometers to the west that is considered a stronghold of the Islamic Front as well as Azaz, a town located next to the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Syria.