August 28, 2016 / 10:27 AM / 3 years ago

Turkey-backed Syrian rebels aim for Manbij city, commander says

A rebel fighter carries a boy as civilians and rebels who were evacuated from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, after an agreement reached on Thursday between rebels and Syria's army, arrive in the rebel-controlled city of Idlib August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian rebel commander said that Turkish-backed rebels aim to capture Manbij city from Kurdish-allied forces as conflict between the sides escalated in northern Syria on Sunday.

Manbij on the west bank of the Euphrates River was captured this month from Islamic State by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, including the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, in a United States-backed offensive.

Colonel Ahmed Osman, head of the Sultan Murad rebel group, told Reuters that the Turkey-backed rebel force was “certainly heading in the direction Manbij” since YPG forces had fortified their positions rather than evacuate.

The United States and Turkey have both demanded that the Kurdish forces withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates.

The YPG says its forces have withdrawn from the area and their presence could not be used as a pretext for an attack.

Asked how long he expected the Turkey-backed rebel forces to advance to Manbij and take it, Osman said “a few days, God willing”.

Manbij is one of the biggest urban centers in the area and it took the Kurdish-backed SDF some 2-1/2 months to wrestle control of it from Islamic State.

Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by David Goodman

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