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IS retreats from villages around Aleppo, says monitor

Under pressure from Kurdish, FSA fighters and US-led coalition air strikes, IS reportedly pulls back from some northern Syrian villages
A Free Syrian Army fighter during a battle with IS in Aleppo last September (AFP)

The Islamic State group has pulled back its fighters and heavy equipment from several villages around Syria's northern city of Aleppo, according to reports.

The apparent retreat in some, but not all, of northeastern Syria comes after the group was driven out of Kobane in January after a months-long battle against Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army fighters.

"There are tactical withdrawals. It's not a complete withdrawal," a leader of a rebel group told Reuters, citing IS contacts.

The same fighter said IS had also dismantled a bakery in al-Bab, a town about 25 miles from Aleppo. 

The US-led coalition air strikes, which began in late September, have also put pressure on the group, with one Aleppo province resident telling Reuters that 90 percent of his relatives and friends who had joined IS had been killed by coalition attacks in the past three months.

IS fighters have been redeployed from Aleppo province to fighter further east against Kurdish and rebel forces, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.

"The front has expanded," Rami Abdulrahman from the Syrian Observatory, said.

North to south?

While IS fighters move eastwards, analysts have told MEE that the CIA has cut off or reduced weapons and salaries to several of the rebel groups it once supported in Syria’s north in place of supporting groups in the south.

In the past week, Damascus, located in the south, has seen repeated Syrian government strikes in the opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta that have killed nearly 100 people since Friday. 

The government's attacks, some of the deadliest since government forces killed 95 people on 25 November in Raqqa, came in response to mortar fire and rocket attacks on the capital by rebel group Jaysh al-Islam.

Jaysh al-Islam's leader Zahran Alloush said, in turn, that the group's attacks were a response to "systematic air strikes" launched on Eastern Ghouta. 

US officials have denied the shift in focus from north to south and instead underscore a $500m Congress-backed scheme to train and equip around 5,000 rebel fighters in eastern Syria.

“The first advance detachment has begun to arrive in the region,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Elissa Smith told MEE on last week of the training programme. “We expect the next wave of several hundred of the trainers and enablers to be deployed in the next few weeks.”