Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkish airstrikes launched an offensive Saturday to try to capture Dabiq from the Islamic State group, which assigns special status to the northern Syrian town in its ideology and propaganda.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack was preceded by intense shelling. It said that Turkey-backed opposition fighters captured three nearby villages, encircling Dabiq and cutting off all supply routes.
Turkey sent troops and tanks into northern Syria in August to help opposition forces recapture IS strongholds and curb the advance of a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, which Ankara views as an extension of Turkey's outlawed Kurdish separatists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in Rize on the Black Sea coast, said "we entered Jarablus, and then al-Rai, and now we are moving where? To Dabiq. We will declare a terror-free safe zone of 5,000 (square) kilometers." He was referring to areas in Syria already captured by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition forces.
Erdogan suggested that some of the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey could return to newly liberated areas of their country. "They can go to their own lands, we can let them live there safely," he said. "That's the step we will take. We have given our proposal to coalition powers and we are moving together."
The town of Dabiq is central to IS propaganda. The extremists, citing ancient prophecy, believe Dabiq will be the scene of an apocalyptic battle between Christianity and Islam. The group named its online magazine after the town, which it has occupied since August 2014.
Source: National News Agency