Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

Militants Leave Key Rebel Town as Syrian Troops Push In

Militants Leave Key Rebel Town  as Syrian Troops Push In

BEIRUT — The main insurgent group in the Syrian province of Idlib pulled out of a key rebel town as government forces advanced in the area on Tuesday amid intense bombardment and airstrikes, a militant group and opposition activists said.
As the militants withdrew, government troops moved into northern and western neighborhoods of Khan Sheikhoun, marking a significant gain for President Bashar Assad’s forces as they try to chip away at territory controlled by the opposition in Idlib. The northwestern province, dominated by an al-Qaida-linked faction, is the last major rebel-held bastion in Syria.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Syria’s main al-Qaida-linked faction, said in a statement that its fighters carried out “a re-deployment,” withdrawing to areas south of the town of Khan Sheikhoun. From there, they would continue to defend the territory, it said.
Syrian state TV said government troops have expanded their presence in the Khan Sheikhoun area, without giving further details.
“The victories that were achieved show the determination of the people and the army to strike terrorists, until all parts of Syria are liberated,” Assad said, according to comments released by his office.
The withdrawal is a blow to the opposition. Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in Idlib and northern parts of Hama province since April 30, forcing nearly half a million people to flee to safer areas further north. The fighting also killed more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of civilians.
After months of intense bombardment, the insurgents’ defenses appear to be crumbling as they are now losing ground at a much faster pace compared with the first three months of the government push.
In the long-running Syrian civil war, now in its ninth year, the northwestern region — where Turkish, Russian, U.S. and Iranian interests are at stake — has taken center stage in the conflict.
The latest government gains come as NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. are discussing setting up a buffer inside Syria — one that Ankara wants to push Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists further to the east.
There has been speculation, meanwhile, that Russia and Turkey, which back rival sides in Syria’s conflict, have reached an agreement that would allow the Syrian army to retake parts of Idlib and reopen a highway that links the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.
Khan Sheikhoun, which had been held by militants since 2014, sits on that highway.
After the capture of Khan Sheikhoun, Syrian troops are likely now to move north toward Maaret al-Numan, another town on the highway that has been subjected to intense airstrikes over the past days. Opposition activists also reported intense bombardment on the rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughour on the southwestern edge of Idlib on Tuesday. (AP)