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IS Group Seizes Villages Near Aleppo   10/09 06:26

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Islamic State militants seized a string of villages from 
rival insurgents north of Aleppo city Friday, in a surprise attack that came 
despite intensive Russian airstrikes that Moscow insists are targeting the 
extremist group, activists said.

   Iranian state media reported that a senior commander in Iran's powerful 
Revolutionary Guard was killed by the Islamic State group on the outskirts of 
Aleppo city, but it was not immediately clear whether Gen. Hossein Hamedani's 
death was related to the new IS offensive.

   An Iranian state television report said he was killed while "carrying out an 
advisory mission," and the official IRNA news agency read a statement by the 
Guard in which it blamed IS for his death. Both reports did not provide further 

   The new developments come amid a wave of Russian airstrikes that have 
targeted insurgents fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, and a ground 
offensive by the Syrian army in the country's central region.

   Moscow says it is targeting mainly Islamic State militants, but U.S. 
officials and Syrian rebels have said the strikes have hit mainstream rebels 
for the most part and are designed to shore up Assad's embattled government and 

   In a surprise attack, the Islamic State group seized a string of villages 
from rebels in Aleppo province Friday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 
said the advance by the extremists, which began Thursday night, is the most 
significant in months. It said the militants seized the villages of Tal Qrah, 
Tal Sousin and Kfar Qares north of Aleppo city.

   The group also seized a former army base known as the Infantry Academy that 
rebels captured from the Syrian army two years ago. The base is located around 
10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of Aleppo city and about one mile (1.6 
kilometers) away from a government-held industrial zone on the northern edge of 

   The pro-IS Aamaq media outlet said the group seized six villages and other 
strategic positions in Aleppo province after battling with armed opposition 
groups there. It said the group opened its blitz with a surprise attack on the 
Infantry Academy, forcing rebels positioned there to withdraw after a number of 
their fighters were killed or captured.

   It said militants then continued their advance toward nearby villages, 
killing and wounding rebels and seizing "qualitative weapons and ammunition" 
from them along the way.

   Opposition activists said the Islamic State group took advantage of Russian 
airstrikes and the rebels' preoccupation with fighting Syrian army forces on 
other fronts in central Syria.

   "At a time when the rebels are waging fierce battles against the Russian 
occupiers in Hama countryside, Daesh seizes the Infantry Academy and a number 
of villages in Aleppo," said Hadi Abdullah, an activist with close links to a 
rebel coalition, known as the Army of Conquest alliance.

   "Why didn't America attack Daesh fighters during their attack?" asked Rami 
Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory.

   It was not clear whether Hamedani's killing was related to that IS 
offensive. Abdurrahman said he was killed on the edge of the Kweiras military 
airbase, which the Islamic State group has besieged for months. Syrian troops 
launched an offensive last week in an attempt to break the siege.

   Kweiras base is about 31 miles (50 kilometers) away from the area of the IS 
offensive Thursday night.

   "Brig. Gen. Hamedani was martyred by Daesh terrorists during an advisory 
mission in the outskirts of Aleppo" on Thursday afternoon, said the terse 
statement read on IRNA, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

   Hamedani is one of the most senior Guard commanders to be killed in Syria, 
and the second to be killed this year. He was a veteran commander who had an 
important role in Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq.

   In January, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in an Israeli 
airstrike in Syria that also killed six Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

   Iran is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's main allies. Tehran has 
provided his government with military and political backing for years and has 
kept up its support since Syria's civil war began in 2011.

   Guard commanders repeatedly have said Iran only has high-level advisers in 
Syria, denying it has fighters there.

   Assad is from the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Iran is majority 
Shiite. Syria's rebels are mostly Sunni.


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