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Syrian factions take 3 villages from regime army near Saraqeb

Local | 2020-02-26 23:20:00
Syrian factions take 3 villages from regime army near Saraqeb
(Zaman Al Wasl)- Syrian opposition factions took two villages and a town from Russian-led regime forces near the strategic highways in northern Idlib province, rebel source told Zaman al-Wasl Wednesday.

Backed by heavy Turkish artillery fire, the Syrian National Army launched a major attack to take the town of Saraqeb that fell to regime control two weeks ago, seeking to seize again the strategic highways of M4 and M5 that links between the northern Aleppo province with Latakia and Damascus.

  Syrian factions were able to break the regime siege on one the Turkish observation points near Saraqeb.

Syrian opposition activists said regime forces shelled a Turkish military convoy on a road near the northwestern village of Bara on Wednesday. Ten Turkish soldiers were wounded.

 The Turkish posts have been under daily shelling by regime forces in the past few weeks that left 16 Turkish soliers killed and dozen wounded.

Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into the region, in Syria's northwest corner bordering Turkey, to support the rebels and Erdogan has vowed to push back Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Turkey set up 12 observation posts up around a "de-escalation zone" in Idlib under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, but several now find themselves behind Syrian regime front lines.

Syrian regime forces have over the past few days captured dozens of villages, including major rebel strongholds in the last opposition-held area.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces bombed civilian targets in Idlib, pushing ahead with a fierce military campaign that has sent nearly a million people fleeing from their homes and killed hundreds over the past three months.

Nine civilians, including women and children, were killed Wednesday, according to Zaman al-Wasl reporter.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the situation is increasingly dire following a spike in hostilities there in the last 48 hours.

Airstrikes were reported the previous day in 19 communities and shelling in 10 villages in Idlib and Hama, with at least 21 civilians, including five women and nine children, reportedly killed by airstrikes as well as ground-based attacks, he said.

More than 300 civilians have been killed since the beginning of December, when regime troops launched a new military campaign to recapture Idlib, which is the last significant opposition-controlled region in the country. According to the U.N., 948,000 people have been displaced - an exodus of people fleeing their homes toward safer areas near the border with Turkey.

The airstrikes also hit and damaged educational and medical facilities including Idlib Central Hospital and several facilities that were serving as a shelter for displaced people, Dujarric said.

He added that the U.N. is trying to expand cross-border aid deliveries to accommodate up to 100 trucks per day, but that needs on the ground "continue to outstrip the humanitarian community’s capacity to respond."

The fighting has triggered a humanitarian disaster, overwhelming already crowded refugee camps amid shortages in food and medicine. As in previous campaigns to recapture opposition-held areas, regime troops bombed hospitals, medical centers, schools and other civilian infrastructure in a bid to subdue the local population, opposition activists and aid organizations said.

The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief group operating in the country's northwest, said that regime forces struck numerous civilian targets in the past 24 hours, including eight schools, three medical centers, and several settlements where people displaced by the fighting had taken shelter.

The group's statement condemned the "silence by the international community" calling it an "open invitation" for Russian-backed government forces to continue their assault.

President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey plans to push Syrian regime forces away from its military observation posts in northwest Idlib region this week, despite continued advances by regime forces and allied militias.

Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced in the last three months by fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces trying to recapture the last major insurgent-held region in Syria after nine years of war.

The pro-regime forces' immediate objective is to reach the town of Kafar Aweed, the capture of which would force rebels to withdraw from a wider tract of territory including their last remaining foothold in Hama province, the Director of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdulrahman said.

The regime army said it had seized numerous villages and towns in the last few days in the south of Idlib province, describing the captured territory as an important crossroads between rebel-held territories.

Erdogan first demanded on Feb. 5 that Assad's forces pull back behind a line of Turkish observation posts by end-February, or Turkey would drive them back.
Turkish and Russian officials began a third round of talks in Ankara on Wednesday aimed at reducing tensions in the region. Turkey's state-owned Anadolu news agency said the talks would continue on Thursday.

Two previous rounds in Ankara and Moscow have failed to yield any tangible progress.

Russia's Foreign Ministry expected positive results, RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying, but a Turkish official was not optimistic.

"At the moment, solely military diplomacy is being carried out and it is not possible to solve the problem on the ground like this," the Turkish official told Reuters.

He said clear results were unlikely until a planned Turkey-Russia-Iran summit March 6. A summit a day earlier between Russia, Turkey, France and Germany had been proposed, but Moscow has not sounded receptive to the idea.

Erdogan said in Wednesday's speech that he hoped the issue of using the air space over Idlib will be resolved soon.

Russia controls the region's air space and has been bombing Turkish-supported rebels on a daily basis in support of the offensive by Syrian regime forces.

Zaman Al Wasl with Agencies

Zaman Al Wasl
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