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Middle East

On the ground with anti-IS group fighters in Syria

© FRANCE 24 Screengrab

Video by Mayssa AWAD , Mohammed HASSAN , Romeo LANGLOIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-27

A FRANCE 24 team following an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters entered the strategic eastern Syrian town of Shedade shortly after it fell from Islamic State (IS) group control.

The sound of heavy fighting is deafening in this dusty corner of eastern Syria not far from the border with Iraq. “Get ready to shoot,” shouts a commander seconds before a round of heavy gunfire rips through the desert air yet again.

The enemy targets are disconcertingly close, with the black flag of the Islamic State (IS) group visible barely a kilometer away.

A fierce battle has been raging this week around the strategic eastern Syrian town of Shedade, located between the IS group’s de facto capital of Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq’s second-most populous city, which fell to the hardline Islamist group in 2014.

The fighters belong to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-supported alliance of Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters and around a dozen Sunni Arab groups.

Founded in late 2015 in an attempt to unite Syrian Kurds and Arabs in the fight against the IS group, the SDF has enjoyed US air support in their ground offensive against the jihadist group.

‘We are united’

Squatting on a pebbly hillock with her fellow fighters, Awaz supplies the SDF raison d’être to the FRANCE 24 team with obvious pride. “We are accused of not treating Arabs and Kurds as equals, but that is wrong. Here there are Arab, Kurdish, Syriac [Christians], we are united. There is no discrimination,” said Awaz, who only provided her nom de guerre.

The military operation to seize Shedade from IS control involved around 5,000 fighters, which reflects the strategic importance of the town in the oil-rich eastern outreaches of Syria.

By Friday, February 19, the SDF announced that the town had fallen, and the FRANCE 24 team entering the town earlier this week found evidence of the IS group’s harsh two-year administration.

Standing before a gutted building, Abu Hani said that it was the town hall under the brutal IS administration. “They installed their Islamic police. They judged the people, they executed them and crucified them on this post,” said Hani, pointing to a nearby electrical pylon.

A number of jihadists were killed, explained Hani, but he conceded that civilians had also been killed in the US-led coalition strikes.

“In this bakery, 21 civilians were killed,” said Hani before quickly adding, “Besides them, we haven’t found the bodies of any civilians in the streets of Shedadi.”

Right now, the yellow flag of the SDF is being raised on public buildings across the town and in this dusty corner of eastern Syria, the black jihadist flag is going down.

Date created : 2016-02-26

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