November 22, 2015 / 3:31 PM / in 2 years

Motorcycle bomb explodes in Kurdish-held Syrian town, three dead: monitor

AMMAN (Reuters) - A bomb placed on a motorcycle exploded on Sunday in a Kurdish-held Syrian town along the Turkish border, killing at least three people and wounding 20 others, a monitoring group said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a huge blast was heard when the motorbike blew up in the center of Tel Abyad, a town captured by Kurdish-led forces from Islamic State militants in June with the help of U.S.-led air strikes.

The target of the bomb was a checkpoint of Kurdish YPG forces, another source said.

Although Kurdish forces have reversed the momentum of the ultra-hardline Islamist militants along the Turkish border, and pushed them from areas in the northern provinces, Islamic State fighters continue to carry out ambushes and suicide car bombings.

Last week Islamic State attacked Kurdish forces and a coalition of Arab tribes in Ain Issa, a town further south in Raqqa province, and within 50 km (30 miles) of Raqqa city, Islamic State’s de facto capital.

The YPG fighters, who have emerged as the most credible ally on the ground of the U.S.-led campaign in Syria, recently joined forces with several Arab tribes in a new U.S.-backed coalition called the Democratic Forces of Syria.

CHANGED STRATEGY

More than a week ago they seized several Islamic State-held villages in Hasaka province, the most important of which was al Houl, in a push further south into Islamic State-controlled territory.

The monitor that tracks violence across the country said the new U.S.-backed coalition made gains on Sunday, capturing an army barracks south of Hasaka city known as Foawj al Maylbiyah and several villages around it close to the Deir Zor highway, significant territory that had been in the hands of Islamic State militants since last year.

Washington’s strategy in Syria has shifted from trying to train fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by U.S.-vetted commanders.

Separately, the Syrian army which has also been fighting Islamic State across northern Syria, said on Sunday it had taken control of a series of heights known as the Hayel in the southern part of the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria.

The Syrian army, backed by some of the heaviest Russian attacks on the hardline Islamist group, has been waging a major offensive to recapture the historic city that was seized last May.

The army also said on Sunday it was closing in on the town of Maheen in the southwest of Homs province, which was captured by militants early this month.

These areas have seen intensified Russian air bombardments in recent days, say rebels. The Russian military has also said it has intensified raids against militant hideouts across Syria.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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