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Syrian regime troops make new push into Idlib

Local | 2019-12-20 22:22:00
Syrian regime troops make new push into Idlib
Syrian regime troops Friday captured four villages in Syria's northwest as part of a new ground offensive to push into rebel-held Idlib province, military and opposition activists said.

The offensive has already forced thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and flee for their lives.

Overnight, regime forces and its Russian ally launched hundreds of air and ground strikes on the southern and eastern countryside of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, apparently paving the way for the ground push.

The Observatory said 38 jihadists and allied rebels had been killed in battles with regime forces in the northwestern province of Idlib since Thursday night.

The fighting near the jihadist-held town of Maaret al-Numan also killed 23 regime loyalists, the Observatory said.

Residents and activists reported incessant bombing over the last few days. In a widely circulated video, a resident of Maaret al-Numan, a town southeast of the rebel-held enclave that has been heavily targeted in the last few days, pleaded for help to evacuate the area. He asked for vehicles.

“It has been a hard and difficult night for the people of Maaret al-Numan,” the unidentified man said. “Whoever can come and get us out please.”

Hundreds of displaced marched to the border crossing with Turkey, demanding access to safety and calling for an end to the violence. The militants who dominate Idlib opened fire over their heads to disperse them.

Syrian state media posted pictures of troops in Um Jalal, one of the four villages they captured and which lies southeast of Maaret al-Numan.

The Observatory said at least 11 civilians were killed in Maaret al-Numan and its suburbs and farther north since Thursday.

Before this latest bout of violence, the U.N. reported that some 60,000 Idlib residents had been displaced in recent weeks by the government offensive.

Syrian regime forces have been slowly chipping away at the rebel-held Idlib, despite a fragile Russian-brokered cease-fire in September 2019. The overstretched Syrian army has been waging a limited offensive against the province.

Since the cease-fire, the regime has been pushing to clear access to a strategic highway that links the capital Damascus and northwestern city of Aleppo.

Idlib is home to 3 million civilians and the U.N. has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe alongside the Turkish border.

Mahmoud Najib al-Youssef, from a village southeast of Maarat Numan, said he and his family fled after three days of intense bombing that saw bombs explode even near a school. The bombing emptied his village, Deir Sharqi, he said. Then the bombs followed them, and they had to move one more time to an area near the border with Turkey.

Al-Youssef said people take advantage of periods of calm, often shortly after dawn, to flee.

“Life has come to a standstill” in the village, he said. “Doctors left, pharmacies closed and groceries too."

Russian warplanes, meanwhile, pounded areas around Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqib with a series of air strikes, according to the war monitor.

The flare-up triggered a wave of displacement from nearby areas, said an AFP correspondent there.

Yasser Ibrahim al-Dandal said he was fleeing with his family to olive groves in northern Idlib, where they would sleep out in the open.

"Hundreds of rockets hit Maarat al-Numan," he told AFP. "The situation is very bad."

The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by Syria's civil war, is controlled by the country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of it.

Pro-regime forces launched a blistering offensive against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes.

Moscow announced a ceasefire in late August, but the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted.

The United Nations this week condemned a deadly rise in violence in the area after the Observatory reported that regime air strikes and artillery fire had killed 23 civilians on Tuesday.

Najat Rochdi, senior humanitarian adviser to the UN's Syria envoy, called for "immediate de-escalation". 
 
Russian warplanes, meanwhile, pounded areas around Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqib with a series of air strikes, according to the war monitor.

The flare-up triggered a wave of displacement from nearby areas, said an AFP correspondent there.

Yasser Ibrahim al-Dandal said he was fleeing with his family to olive groves in northern Idlib, where they would sleep out in the open.

"Hundreds of rockets hit Maarat al-Numan," he told AFP. "The situation is very bad."

The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by Syria's civil war, is controlled by the country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of it.

 The eight-year-old war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their shattered homeland.
 

 
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