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Drone seen over Islamic State-held territory in Aleppo, Syria

THE LEVANT – At least one unmanned surveillance aircraft has been seen over Islamic State-controlled areas of the Syrian province of Aleppo, where the militants have evacuated most of their bases, a group which tracks the war in Syria reported on Thursday.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said multiple sources in northeastern Aleppo had spotted at least one drone over towns including al-Bab and Manbij. “They hadn’t seen them before,” he told Reuters by telephone.

U.S. President Barack Obama has authorised surveillance flights in Syria. He has said he will not hesitate to strike Islamic State militants who control large areas of Syria, potentially expanding air strikes the United States is conducting against the group in neighbouring Iraq.

Unmanned surveillance aircraft have been spotted over the city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria, 450 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus, activists have reported. Footage captured by activists appeared to show an American-made drone over the city earlier this month.

Islamic State fighters advanced westwards into northern Aleppo province in August, seizing territory from less well-armed insurgent groups that have been fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Al-Bab is 40 km northeast of Aleppo. Assad’s forces and his opponents are battling for control of the city. Islamic State appears to have halted its advance for now after seizing strategic hilltops in the area, the Observatory has reported.

The top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday the United States was not preparing to unleash a “shock and awe” campaign of overwhelming air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the campaign against Islamic State in Syria would be “a persistent and sustainable campaign”.

In apparent anticipation of U.S. action, Islamic State has evacuated buildings it has been using as offices in Raqqa and other parts of Syria under its control. It has also been moving around its fighters and weapons, residents have said.

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