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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels are expecting stiff resistance from Islamic State near a northern Syrian village that is of great symbolic significance to the group, a rebel commander said on Wednesday, signalling a tough battle ahead to capture it.
With Turkish backing, rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner have advanced to within a few kilometres (miles) of the village of Dabiq, the site of an apocalyptic prophesy central to the militant group's ideology.
The rebels this week captured the village of Turkman Bareh, 6 kilometres (4 miles) east of Dabiq, after heavy clashes - part of a wider Turkish-backed operation to clear Islamic State from the border area.
"The battles in Turkman Bareh were fierce. There is great resistance in these villages after reinforcements were brought to the region a week ago. We expect also resistance in the neighbouring villages," the commander told Reuters.
Although Dabiq, a village in relatively flat countryside northeast of Aleppo, holds little strategic value, it is seen by Islamic State as the place where a final battle will take place between Muslims and infidels, heralding Doomsday.
Islamic State has heavily mined the area near Dabiq, rebels say. Washington believes taking Dabiq could strike at Islamic State morale as it prepares to fend off expected offensives against Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa, the largest cities held by the jihadists, officials from a coalition country said.
Reporting by Tom Perry; editing by Mark Heinrich