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ISIS mounts fierce defense of besieged Syrian bastion

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (ISIS) jihadists have launched a wave of suicide and car bombings to defend a besieged stronghold in northern Syria against US-backed fighters, a monitor said on Saturday, June 18, 2016. 

A Kurdish-Arab alliance last week encircled the city of Manbij and severed a key supply route used by ISIS from the Turkish border to the jihadists' de facto Syrian capital, Raqa.

But since then the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by US air strikes, have been slowed by almost daily suicide bombings by ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On Friday, ISIS carried out two suicide attacks and 5 car bombings in the southwestern suburbs of Manbij, according to the British-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources on the ground.

The number of casualties was unknown.

The operation has also been complicated by the presence of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the city, although more than 1,000 have managed to escape with the help of the SDF.

"On Friday, six members of the same family were killed when they were targeted by jihadists while fleeing," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

SDF commanders have accused ISIS of using civilians as human shields.

Southeast of Manbij, regime forces backed by Russian air strikes have also faced IS counterattacks after advancing towards another jihadist bastion, Tabqa.

The town lies around 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Raqa city, and recapturing it would cut a key supply route. The army is now reported to be 15 kilometers away from Tabqa's military airport.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations.

It has evolved into a multi-sided civil war involving a range of combatants including Western- and Gulf-backed rebels, jihadists, Kurds and pro-regime forces supported by Russia and Iran. – Rappler.com