tanks, TURKEY SYRIA ISIS CONFLICT WAR.jpg
Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Syrian rebels, backed by Turkish tanks and airstrikes, launched Saturday a major assault on the Islamic State-held town of Dabiq, where the jihadis believe an end-of-times battle will take place, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added that the rebels seized the nearby village of Ghailaniyeh from Islamic State, thereby expanding the area from which the rebels can advance on Dabiq.

A rebel field commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expected the town to fall "within hours."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed progress on Dabiq, and said that the forces planned to create a safe zone of 5,000 square kilometres in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Observatory reported on Friday that its activists inside Syria had monitored more than 1,200 Islamic State fighters heading to the defence of Dabiq, including forces pulled out of other front lines.

According to Islamic State's ideology, an apocalyptic battle is to take place in Dabiq between Muslims and Christians.

The extremist group has named its English-language magazine after the town.

Islamic State has been on the back foot north of Aleppo since Turkish forces and allied rebels crossed the border in August in an operation aimed at the hardline jihadis as well as Kurdish forces.

The rebels and Turkey have captured more than 900 square kilometres in the region from Islamic State, including the strategic border towns of al-Rai and Jarabulus.

Latest news

Plane crashes at airport in Melbourne

A five-passenger charter plane has crashed into a building next to Essendon Airport in Melbourne, with witnesses reporting explosions, fire and black smoke, police said Tuesday.

Air France pilots give green light to lower cost subsidiary

Members of Air France's main pilots union on Monday voted to accept the creation of a new lower cost subsidiary that the flag carrier hopes will help it compete on long-haul routes.

US Army General McMaster tapped as Trump's national security advisor

Army Lieutenant General HR McMaster will be the new White House national security advisor, US President Donald Trump told reporters Monday.

Greece's creditors want sweeping reforms before next bailout payment

Greece must make sweeping reforms to its labour market, pension system and collective bargaining agreements in order to receive its next vital bailout payment, the country's European creditors said Monday.

President wants to recall "politically appointed ambassadors", can't do it without gov't

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said that many politically appointed Croatian ambassadors were not carrying out state policies but that she could not replace them without the government to appoint career diplomats who would fight for Croatia's interests.

Izetbegovic hopes ICJ will confirm Serbia's responsibility for genocide

The Bosniak member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegovic, on Monday rejected criticism stirred up by the announcement that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be requested to review its judgement made after Bosnia sued Serbia for genocide.

British lawmakers locked in heated debate over Trump's state visit

Allowing US President Donald Trump to visit Britain would be akin to "pimping out the Queen," one British lawmaker said Monday during a heated debate in British parliament over two petitions concerning the US leader's future state visit.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's sharp-tongued ambassador to the UN, dies

Russia's long-time ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died in New York on Monday, following a career that spanned four decades and saw Russia emerge from the Soviet Union and experience many turbulent events in its relations with the West.

French police raid National Front over European Parliament payments

France's far-right National Front Monday said that investigators had searched its offices in relation to allegations that it misused European Parliament funds.

Unhappy Presidents' Day: Trump still manoeuvring after Sweden comment

Donald Trump used his first Presidents' Day in office to continue trying to talk his way out of comments implying a terrorist attack in Sweden that never happened.

Croatia supports Kosovo's territorial integrity - Grabar-Kitarovic

Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Monday expressed the support to Kosovo's territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations during her talks with the visiting Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj.

Petrov rules out early parliamentary election

Parliament Speaker and Bridge party leader Bozo Petrov on Monday dismissed speculation about a reshuffle of the parliamentary majority, saying an early election was likelier, but that right now he did not see "such a scenario."