Middle East

Fighting around key Syria town 'leaves 47 dead' - activists

Rebel fighters walk through rubble following an alleged bombing by IS in Marea (image from April 2015) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Marea has been the scene of fierce fighting between anti-Assad rebels and IS forces for months (image from April 2015)

Fighting between rebels and Islamic State (IS) militants around the strategic Syrian town of Marea has left 47 dead, according to activists.

The UK-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights said that 27 IS fighters were killed, with the rest being from other anti-government groups.

Marea lies in an area that Turkey and the US have reportedly wanted to turn into an IS-free "safe zone".

Last month it was alleged IS had used chemical weapons in an attack on Marea.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that on 21 August it had treated four members of a family who suffered from breathing difficulties and developed blisters after a mortar hit their home in Marea.

The Syrian American Medical Society has also reported receiving 50 patients showing symptoms of chemical exposure.

Local rebels say the shells were fired from an IS-held village to the east.

Last month the US said it suspected IS of having used chemical agents in another attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Reports of a sulphur mustard attack on Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq are also being investigated.

Also on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern to his Russian counterpart over reports of "an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up" in Syria.

On Friday the New York Times reported that US officials believed Russia had sent a military advance team to Syria and was "taking other steps the United States fears may signal that President... Putin is planning to vastly expand his military support for [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad".

Mr Kerry "made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria," the state department said.