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Turkey support helps rebels retake Al Bab

ANKARA/DAMASCUS

Syrian rebels supported by Turkish armed forces have seized control of strategically important hills around the Daish-controlled town of Al Bab, Turkey’s military said as Syria’s justice ministry dismissed as “completely false” an Amnesty International report on hangings in a Syrian prison.

Turkey’s military said said that 58 Daish rebels were killed in air strikes and clashes. Two Turkish soldiers had been killed and 15 slightly wounded.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the operations had made important progress and the next target would be Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daish.

“The Al Bab operation must be completed immediately in the period ahead … In recent days our special forces and the Free Syrian Army (rebels) have made serious progress,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in the capital Ankara.

The battle for Al Bab has raised the prospect of confrontation between the Turkish military and the Syrian army, which has pushed to within a few kilometres of the city’s southern outskirts.

A Syrian rebel official and a monitoring organisation said the advancing rebel and Turkish forces had captured the western outskirts of al-Bab, some 30km south of the Turkish border.

“With last night’s assault, Daish’s defences have been broken through and the advance is now continuing,” said the   official, speaking from the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Turkish military reinforcements had been sent to the area about a week ago, the rebel added.

Syrian government forces and allied militia have mounted their own rapid advance towards Al Bab in the last few weeks.  The city was encircled earlier this week when Syrian government forces cut the last way into the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army rebel allies had captured a hill on the western periphery of the city.

The justice ministry said the Amnesty report was “completely untrue and intended to harm Syria’s reputation in international forums,” the official Sana news agency reported.

The rights group on Tuesday alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed and were likely continuing at the Saydnaya prison near Damascus.

Amnesty interviewed 84 witnesses, including guards, detainees and judges, and alleged a pattern of summary executions.

But the justice ministry denied such executions were occurring, saying “death sentences in Syria are not issued until after a trial goes through several stages of litigation.”

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, according to the Observatory.

Agencies