Syrian rebels backed by Turkey and a US-led coalition are closing in on the Syrian town of Dabiq, the site of an apocalyptic prophecy central to the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups have pushed southwards into ISIL territory in an operation backed by Turkey since late August, and have taken villages near Dabiq in recent days.
Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad FSA group, said the plan was to reach Dabiq within 48 hours, but he cautioned ISIL had heavily mined the surrounding area - a sign of its importance to the group.
Although Dabiq - a town in the relatively flat countryside northeast of Aleppo - holds little strategic value it is seen by ISIL as the place where a final battle will take place between Muslims and infidels, heralding doomsday.
The group has named its online English-language magazine Dabiq, and in April and May ISIL sent about 800 fighters there to defend it against advances by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces at the time, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.
'Fifteen rebels dead'
Fighting in northern Syria between Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and ISIL fighters killed at least 15 rebels in the last 24 hours, rebels and Turkish officials said on Monday. They also said about 35 were wounded in the fighting.
The Syrian Observatory, which monitors the war in Syria through sources in the country, put the death toll of rebels at 21.
The US-led coalition against ISIL is actively supporting the rebels as they advance "to within a few kilometres of [its] weakening stronghold" of Dabiq, Brett McGurk, Washington's special envoy for the coalition, said in a tweet.
ISIL has exploited the five-year-old Syrian civil war to seize swathes of territory.
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Washington says taking Dabiq could strike at ISIL's morale as it prepares to fend off expected offensives against Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa - the largest cities held by the group, officials from a coalition country told Reuters news agency.
Turkish warplanes hit ISIL targets in the areas of Dabiq, Akhtarin, and Turkman Bareh, destroying nine buildings including a command post, artillery positions, and an ammunition depot, a statement by Turkey's military said on Monday.
The latest fighting marks an escalation since Turkish troops crossed the border into Syria on August 24 to back opposition fighters battling ISIL in an operation Ankara says is aimed at removing the border threat the group poses.