ISIS closes in on rebel stronghold in north Syria

Photo: ISIS closes in on rebel stronghold in north Syria / Arab World

Syria's Western-backed opposition called on Saturday for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremist group as the militants captured three northern villages, putting them within striking distance of a mainstream rebel stronghold, Alarabiya reported.

ISIS fighters have overrun nearly a dozen towns and villages in Aleppo province this week, crushing what little resistance they have encountered. Those gains threaten rival factions' supply lines to neighboring Turkey and squeeze the mainstream armed opposition's position in the country's largest city, Aleppo, which is also under assault by President Bashar Assad's forces.

With the mainstream rebels' foothold in Aleppo becoming increasingly precarious, the Syrian National Coalition urged the international community to "quickly support the Free Syrian Army with weapons and ammunition" so it could "defend its people."

"We call on the international community to use the American air force, or those of any other country to support the Free Syrian Army," the Coalition said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the group's military wing.

The Coalition has long appealed for more robust military support from the West to help in its fight to oust Assad, and more recently to counter the rise of Islamic extremists.

But the group's appeal Saturday appeared aimed at capitalizing on the recent U.S. aerial intervention in neighboring Iraq, where American military aircraft have targeted ISIS as the militants advanced on the largely autonomous Kurdish region and threatened Christians and other religious minorities.

But President Barack Obama has long refused demands for similar action in Syria, fearing it could draw the U.S. into an increasingly complex and bloody civil war.

ISIS, which moved aggressively into Syria in early 2013, has carved out a self-styled "caliphate" in the territory it has seized in northeastern Syria as well as northern and western Iraq.

On Saturday, activists said ISIS had executed 700 members of a tribe it has been battling in eastern Syria during the past two weeks, the majority of them civilians.

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