Syria regime gains ground in deadly Idlib push - GulfToday

Syria regime gains ground in deadly Idlib push


General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub visits soldiers in Al-Hobeit in Idlib province, Syria. Reuters

Syrian regime forces seized a town on the edge of Idlib, a monitor said, in their first ground advance in the province since an escalation on the extremist-dominated enclave more than three months ago.

The region of northwestern Syria, which is home to an estimated three million civilians, has come under almost daily Syrian and Russian bombardment since late April.

The most recent fighting, which cost the lives of more than 130 fighters over the weekend, took place in an area straddling Idlib and Hama provinces, a war monitor said, and claimed dozens of lives on both sides.

“Regime forces seized the town of Al-Habeet, in Idlib’s southern countryside, at dawn,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

The Idlib area has escaped the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government since 2015 and is the last major bastion of opposition to his regime and its allies.

The monitoring group also reported two civilians killed, including a child, in regime and Russian air strikes Sunday on the south of Idlib province.

The capture of Al-Habeet, one of several strategic targets for advancing pro-regime forces, came after another night of deadly fighting, the Observatory said.

According to the Britain-based monitor’s tally, 70 combatants were killed on Saturday alone, 32 of them pro-government forces.

The remaining 38 were from the opposing ranks of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the extremist outfit led by members of Al Qaeda’s former Syria franchise, and allied rebel fighters.

Abdel Rahman said at least another 61 combatants, 21 of them government fighters, were killed in fighting on Sunday.

He described Al-Habeet as “the first town in southern Idlib to be taken by the regime since the start of the escalation” in April.

The town, largely deserted of its residents, is seen as a stepping stone towards Khan Sheikhun, one of the main towns in Idlib and the target of some of the eight-year-old conflict’s deadliest air strikes.

The Observatory said regime forces advanced to within seven kilometres (four miles) west of Khan Sheikhun.

Amid the reports of Russian air strikes, Syrian state television said anti-aircraft missiles had been activated at Russia’s air base in Hmeimim, in the neighbouring coastal province of Latakia.

The Observatory said the missiles targeted drones launched from the Idlib region.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in recent weeks and aid groups have warned that an all-out assault on Idlib could turn the current humanitarian emergency into a catastrophe.

The fighting is a violation of a deal which was reached by the battle’s two main foreign brokers -- Russia and Turkey -- but was never implemented.

Russia is Damascus’ main backer while Turkey holds sway over some rebel and extremist forces along its border.

The deal’s terms were never realistic but the accord sealed in the Russian resort of Sochi in September 2018 staved off a fully-fledged offensive.

The Daesh group vowed to intensify its fight against the US-led coalition and Kurds in eastern Syria, in a video posted Sunday on its Telegram channel.

“The fire of the battle between us and them has been reignited and will intensify,” the Daesh group said, addressing what it called “soldiers of Islam” and residents of the caliphate.

Daesh took swathes of oil-rich land in Iraq and Syria in a lightning 2014 offensive.

The extremists lost the last shred of their self-declared “caliphate” in late March, when Syria’s Kurds took the village of Baghhouz in Deir Ezzor province with support from coalition air strikes.

But Daesh retains sleeper cells and has orchestrated a series of car bomb and arson attacks in eastern and northeastern Syria since its territorial defeat.

In Sunday’s video -- the second since the fall of Baghouz -- Daesh accused coalition countries of having entrapped its local adversaries, including the Kurds.

“They have been thrown into the flames of a fierce war that will leave them without tail or head,” Daesh warned.

The video includes decapitations and the shooting to death at close range of people presented as kidnapped Kurdish fighters.

Daesh released a video in late April -- shortly after claiming deadly attacks in Sri Lanka -- in which leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi purportedly appeared, pledging vengeance and a “long battle” ahead.


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