Kurdish fighters besiege IS gunmen in Syria's Hassakeh city

By the Associated Press | July 16, 2015 | 1:15 PM EDT

In this Wednesday, July 15, 2015 photo, Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters prepare to bomb Islamic State group positions on the outskirts of Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish fighters besieged members of the Islamic State group Thursday in the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh as they pushed forward under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, an activist group and the main Kurdish militia in Syria said.

Kurdish fighters have been on the offensive in northern Syria since January, capturing large areas from the extremist group and controlling a long stretch along the border with Turkey.

The IS group attacked several government-held southern neighborhoods in Hassakeh last month and troops have since failed to retake the areas. YPG fighters joined the battle, recently capturing several villages south of Hassakeh.

Syria-based Kurdish official Mustafa Bali said members of the People's Protection Units, or YPG, have cut all the roads linking Hassakeh with nearby IS strongholds in the province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the YPG said Kurdish fighters captured a juvenile prison and a power station south of Hassakeh on Thursday.

"Daesh fighters are besieged inside the city," Bali said by telephone using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group. "The aim of YPG is to liberate Hasssakeh."

The YPG said on its Facebook page that "our fighters are now surrounding the mercenaries from all sides in the city." It added that streets on the southern edge of Hassakeh are full of bodies of dead IS fighters and others have been taken prisoner.

"Our units are advancing and have captured several strategic areas," the YPG Facebook statement said.

Before IS captured parts of Hassakeh last month, the city had been split between government and Kurdish forces.

The Islamic State group holds a self-declared caliphate across roughly a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq.