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Kurdish fighters chase IS from key base near Raqqa

Kurdish YPG forces have seized control of the Liwa 93 base from the Islamic State group
File photo shows Syrian Kurdish fighters

BEIRUT - Syrian Kurdish fighters have chased Islamic State (IS) militants from a key base north of the group’s stronghold city of Raqqa.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - with US-led air support - took complete control of the Liwa (Brigade) 93 base on Monday. 

"They (IS) have been defeated," YPG spokesman Redur Xelil told Reuters.

"IS lines of defence were pushed back to the gates of Raqqa," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The Kurds also entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn Issa, close to Brigade 93 ... this town has basically fallen in the military sense with the capture of the base," Abdel Rahman said.

"This means that the Islamic State keeps collapsing inside its own stronghold." 

The base was important due to its position overlooking strategic roads linking Raqqa to other IS outposts in the provinces of Aleppo to the west and Hasakah to the east.

IS militants had held the military base after capturing it from regime forces last summer.

The taking of the base is the second blow inflicted on IS fighters by the Kurds in a week after the capture of Tal Abyad, on Syria's border with Turkey.

Tal Abyad was a key conduit for foreign fighters and supplies into IS-held territory in Syria and for exports of black market oil from IS-held fields into Turkey.

Kurdish forces defended the Syrian town of Kobane against IS in a months-long battle, and have emerged as some of the most effective forces battling the group in the year since it declared a cross-border "caliphate" with neighbouring Iraq.

The Syrian Kurds see Iraqi Kurdistan as an example of their desired regional autonomy in Syria. However, they have said that they do not desire a state.

While there has been little direct conflict between Syrian Kurds and government forces throughout the ongoing civil war, the Kurds' increasings strength has led to tension between them and the Syrian government.

In Qamishli - a city in the northeast that is split between Kurdish and government forces - Kurds last week siezed various government-held positions. The Kurdish fighters said pro-Assad forces had instigated a clash.

"In general, (the Kurds) and us are friends," Reuters quoted an anonymous Syrian government official as saying. "But there is no state of permanent harmony."

Meanwhile, in the northern city of Allepo, at least 10 civilians were killed in a government barrel bomb attack on a mosque, the Observatory said. At least two of those killed were children. 

"The faithful were in the middle of the Maghrib (evening) prayers in a mosque in Aleppo's rebel-held district of Ansari," the Observatory said, adding that the attack also left some 20 people injured.

According to UN estimates, over 220,000 Syrians have been killed in the ongoing civil war. Nearly four million have fled the country and have been granted refugee status.

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