BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State militants captured several villages from Syrian rebels in a counter-attack near the Turkish border that forced the foreign-backed insurgents to retreat, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The rebels, whom Turkey has supported with tanks and air strikes, had been pushing towards the IS stronghold of Dabiq, a village with symbolic importance to the jihadists.
The IS attack, which began late on Friday, retook villages including Akhtarin and pushed towards Turkman Bareh, some three km (two miles) east of Dabiq, said the British-based Observatory, which tracks the war using contacts on the ground.
Turkey’s military said two Syrian rebels had been killed and nine wounded in fighting against IS. It said Turkish warplanes had hit 14 Islamic State targets over the last 24 hours and that an air strike by the U.S.-led coalition killed two IS militants.
Ankara launched its first major military incursion into Syria in August, deploying tanks and warplanes to support insurgents it backs in an operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield”.
The operation has separately targeted Islamic State and Kurdish militants, whose presence along its border Turkey sees as a threat.
Turkish attacks against the Kurdish YPG militia have caused tension with Washington, for whom the YPG has been an effective partner on the ground for its air campaign against IS.
Reporting by John Davison; additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Powell