Syrian rebels declare counter attack in Idlib province
Syrian rebels declare counter attack in Idlib province
Fighting raged in Idlib, where a government 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’s side.
Idlib province is the biggest chunk of Syria still held by rebels fighting President Bashar 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Syrian troops and allied forces absorbed the attack and regained control of some positions they had withdrawn from, it said.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.”
Rebels said they had captured some 15 villages and seized 60 government fighters. A Syrian military source denied this 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.
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.
Turkish court rejects Australia’s request to extradite Daesh recruiter
- Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
- Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained
SYDNEY: A Turkish court rejected an Australian request to extradite a citizen it believes is a top recruiter for the Daesh group, Australia’s foreign minister said on Friday, in a setback for Canberra’s efforts to prosecute him at home.
Melbourne-born Neil Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and has appeared in Daesh videos and magazines. Australia has alleged that he actively recruited Australian men, women and children and encouraged acts of militancy.
“We are disappointed that the Kilis Criminal Court in Turkey has rejected the request to extradite Neil Prakash to Australia,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.
“We will continue to engage with Turkish authorities as they consider whether to appeal the extradition decision,” she said.
Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained there nearly two years ago.
Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported from Kilis that Prakash was initially ordered to be freed but was later charged under Turkish law with being a Daesh member.
A spokesman at Turkey’s foreign ministry in Istanbul had no immediate comment and the Turkish embassy in Australia did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a militant group.
Canberra announced financial sanctions against Prakash in 2015, including anyone giving him financial assistance, with punishment of up to 10 years in jail.
The Australian government wrongly reported in 2016, based on US intelligence, that Prakash had been killed in an air strike in Mosul, Iraq. It later confirmed that Prakash was detained in Turkey.
Australia raised its national terror threat level to “high” for the first time in 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq or Syria.
A staunch ally of the United States and its actions against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Australia believes more than 100 of its citizens were fighting in the region.