Turkish and Arab soldiers aim to enter village Isis regards as site of preordained combat between Muslims and Christians

Up to 40 US troops are preparing to advance towards a northern Syrian village regarded by Islamic State as the preordained site of a showdown between Muslims and Christians that will eventually lead to the apocalypse.

On Friday, US special forces collected with Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara in the town of al-Rai, about eight miles( 13 km) from Dabiq, which the terrorist group employs as a theological raison detre and which it has insisted will be the site of a fateful combat. Sources within the Arab divisions said the coalition of forces was aiming to advance through Dabiq on the way to the Isis stronghold of al-Bab, 20 miles( 32 km) further south.

The operation got off to a troubled start, however, with US units withdrawing to Turkey to avoid a confrontation with an Islamist opponent division raged by their presence. The US troops had previously allied with Kurdish forces-out with whom the Islamists had clashed elsewhere.

They were the Ahrar al-Shariya group, who originally came from Deir ez-Zor, said one opponent figure. They didnt quite chase them out, but the Americans thought it better that they leave. The US troops were last night regrouping on the Turkish side of the border.

The tension underscored the complexity of the battle for northern Syria, which is increasingly opposed by vested interest who struggle to find common ground, even in pursuit of a common foe in Isis.

Dabiq

The significance of Dabiq to Isis is not lost on the US or Turkey, who have deliberated over how to deal with the town as they advance towards al-Bab, a far more significant military target that houses the foreign intelligence limb of the group responsible for organising terrorist attacks. Isis uses the name Dabiq as the title of its propaganda publication that regularly features excerpts of two hadiths accounts of things said or done by the prophet Muhammad or his companions that predict the villages role in Islamic history.

Small, flat and difficult to defend, Dabiq poses far less of an obstacle than al-Bab, which has the potential to be the hardest battle yet fought to oust the extremist group from its remaining bastions. After intersecting the border into Syria last month, the Turkish military has vowed to play a lead role in the push for the cities, following up on the rout it collectively led through the border township of Jarabulus.

Turkey has also been pushing for humanitarian aid to be allowed into the nearby city of Aleppo, the north road to which remained blocked by the Syrian army on Friday, five days into a ceasefire that was meant to open assistance routes to the area and other besieged parts of the country.

The lack of progress is putting a strain on the ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and the US that was supposed to reduce opposing and allow essential supplies to communities in desperate want. Moscow said it would pressure Syria to comply with the terms of the bargain. Though a signatory to it, Syrian officials have complained that the pact impinges on the countrys sovereignty. Through robust military backing, Russia and Iran have become increasingly influential in Syria and have taken a dominant stake in determining which military and political outcomes are sought at this stage of the war.

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