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IS seizes Kurdish-controlled town near stronghold of Raqqa

Kurdish forces deny that the town of Ain Issa has fallen as Islamic State launches counter-offensives in the north-east province of Syria
Kurdish fighters are pictured during clashes with fighters from the Islamic State group on the outskirts of Syrian city of Hasakeh on 30 June 2015 (AFP)

Fighters from the Islamic State group overran a Syrian town held by Kurdish forces, near the group's de facto capital of Raqqa.

Ain Issa, which is 55 kilometres north of Raqqa, lies on a main highway that runs west from Aleppo all the way to the Iraqi city of Mosul in the east.

“IS launched a large-scale offensive at dawn…and managed to enter Ain Issa,” said Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, to AFP.

“Clashes are continuing inside the town in the southern part to expel IS,” he continued.

The Kurds managed to seize Ain Issa and a nearby military base two weeks earlier on 23 June shortly after capturing the border town of Tal Abyad, with the help of the US-led airstrikes on IS.

Kurdish fighters backed by Arab allies seized the frontier town of Tal Abyad from IS on 16 June after weeks of fighting during which they captured numerous villages in Raqqa province from IS.

The fall of Tal Abyad was a major blow for the group, which had used the town as a conduit for weapons and fighters.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that IS had successfully attacked and were now in control of Ain Issa and several neighbouring villages after a sweeping attack.

Over the past few days, IS have attacked Kurdish-held positions near Hasakeh, a city bordering Turkey to the north and Iraq to the south that is divided by Kurdish and Syrian government control.

However, while Kurdish and rebel spokesmen confirmed that IS had launched a counter-attack in the Raqqa and Hasakah provinces, they denied that Ain Issa had fallen.

Nasir Haj Mansour, a Kurdish official in the Hasakah province, said that IS was also fighting in the Jabal Abdul Aziz mountain range southwest of the city.

In recent weeks, IS forces launched several counterattacks against the Kurds, including Kobane, which IS has battled to recapture for several months.

Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes expelled IS fighters from Kobane in January, in a symbolic victory that was reported on widely in the international media.

The Kurds were able to fight off the counterattack in Kobane, but IS killed more than 200 people inside the town before being pushed out.