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Syrian rebels declare counter attack in Idlib province

Local | 2018-01-11 17:08:01
Syrian rebels declare counter attack in Idlib province
(Zaman Al Wasl)- At least 75 regime troops were killed when rebels launched a counterattack against regime forces and their allies in Idlib province on Thursday, local reporter said.

Rebels said they had captured some 15 villages and seized 60 government fighters, but military source denied to Reuters such news and dismissed rebel talk of a counter attack as propaganda. The source said fierce battles were however underway in the area and army advances were continuing.

The move followed rapid gains by the regime forces who are approaching a sprawling rebel-held air base in the northwestern province from different directions.

Recapturing the Abu Zuhour air base, which the rebels took in 2015, has been one of the main targets of a major government offensive into Idlib that began in late October. 

A rebel command task said they foiled regime attack on Abu Zuhour base, killing more than 50 troops.

The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said on Wednesday that Syrian troops are fighting militants, including members of al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee, in different areas near Abu Zuhour.

Fighting raged in Idlib, where a regime offensive helped by Iran-backed militia has gathered pace in the last two weeks, according to rebels and a military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is fighting on the Syrian government side, according to Reuters.

Idlib province is the biggest chunk of Syria still held by rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, with a population swollen by Syrians who have fled government advances in other parts of the country. Assad has defeated rebels in many parts of western Syria with critical help from Russia and Iran.

The recent military escalation in western Syria has included an unprecedented attack by a squadron of drones on Russian military bases and has cast a shadow over Moscow’s efforts to convene a Syria peace congress later this month.

The Hezbollah media unit said the army and its allies were repelling a “fierce assault” by the Nusra Front, formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Syrian war, and factions linked to it.

Syrian troops and allied forces absorbed the attack and regained control of some positions they had withdrawn from, it said.

Rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said in a statement they had set up a joint operations room to repel the offensive and take back areas seized by the government in northeastern Hama and southern Idlib.

“The operation is to hit the belly of the regime deep into liberated territories and to encircle their advancing forces,” said Abdul Hakim al Rahamon, a senior official in Jaish al Nasr, an FSA faction taking part.

Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by the Nusra Front, the dominant force in Idlib, said it had already made gains.

“With Allah’s blessings we drew plans and prepared ourselves and are encircling them,” said Abu al Naji, a commander from Tahrir al Sham. “We have killed many.”

Rebel sources said warplanes had struck Khan Sheikhoun and Saraqeb, two major population centers in Idlib province that are among several towns that have been targeted in the latest offensive.

The latest push by the army and its allies has alarmed Turkey which has been deploying forces inside northern Idlib and setting up bases which it says are part of agreements with Iran and Russia over a descalation zone in Idlib.

The Turkish government said the Idlib offensive was endangering the effort to reach a resolution of the conflict and accused the Syrian government of using the pretext of fighting militants to wage a widescale attack.

Ankara is concerned that wider fighting in the province could bring tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing from the battlefields on its borders far beyond the numbers now fleeing.

Many Syrians living in rebel-held areas see Turkey’s military intervention as a bulwark against a relentless bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian airforces they blame for killing and injuring hundreds of civilians in urban areas in recent months, away from the frontlines. (With Agencies)

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