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Mon 16 Feb 2015 12:25 PM

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Kurds, Syrian rebels edge into ISIL stronghold

Monitor said that the Kurds had regained control of at least 163 villages around Kobani

Kurds, Syrian rebels edge into ISIL stronghold
(Getty Images)

Kurdish forces backed by Syrian insurgent groups
took control of a hill inside the provincial stronghold of the militant ISIL
group on Sunday after deadly clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
said.

The Kurdish forces, supported by US-led air
strikes, drove ISIL fighters from the town of Kobani last month near the
Turkish border and have pushed them back from surrounding villages in northern
Syria.

ISIL still holds tracts of land across northern and eastern Syria and
into Iraq.

Now the Kurds and other local fighters who oppose ISIL
have taken a hill south of Kobani which lies within Raqqa province - the
stronghold of the al Qaeda offshoot in Syria, said the Observatory, which
tracks the conflict through sources on the ground.

"It is the first time they get into
Raqqa," the Observatory's founder Rami Abdulrahman said. He added that at
least 35 ISIL fighters and four members of the Kurdish forces had been killed
on Sunday in battles near Kobani, which were the heaviest since the Kurds took
back the town.

The fight for Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab in
Arabic, become the focus of international efforts to combat ISIL and was the
first time that a U.S-led aerial campaign had worked with local ground forces
to oust the militants in Syria.

The Observatory said on Saturday that the Kurds had
regained control of at least 163 villages around Kobani in the three weeks
since they pushed ISIL fighters out of the town.

In recent weeks the Kurds were joined by several
hundred rebel fighters in the battles for areas surrounding the town, according
to the Observatory. These included the Shams Al Shamal brigade and the Raqqa
Revolutionaries Brigade, which both oppose the jihadists.