Idlib rebels blow up bridges to hamper expected assault

Syrian Rebel fighters prepare in anticipation of an attack by the regime on Idlib province and the surrounding countryside, in Kafr Zeta on August 30, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Idlib rebels blow up bridges to hamper expected assault

  • The bridges over the Orontes River linked areas of Hama province under government control
  • Russia's Lavrov says talks to create humanitarian corridors in Idlib ongoing

BEIRUT: Rebels from Idlib have blown up two key bridges in a bid to hamper an expected government assault on Syria’s only remaining rebel-held province, a monitor said on Friday.
The bridges over the Orontes River linked areas of neighboring Hama province under government control to rebel-held territory in Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were blown up by Islamist factions from the National Liberation Front (NLF), the main non-jihadist alliance in Idlib, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“They were the two main bridges in the area, but there are others,” he told AFP.
The bridges were located in the Al-Ghab plain, which straddles Hama and Idlib provinces and could be one of the first targets of any government offensive.
Government forces have been massing around Idlib province for weeks, particularly in Al-Ghab which was once a key farming area.
“The rebels have seen the intense activity on the regime side, with the arrival of tanks and armored vehicles,” Abdel Rahman said.
“Rebel groups are reinforcing their positions in anticipation of a military operation.”
In recent days, both the government and its ally Russia have stepped up their rhetoric against the rebel presence in Idlib, which is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) jihadist alliance formed by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch, Al-Nusra Front.
“The Syrian command has taken a decision to defeat Al-Nusra Front in Idlib no matter the sacrifices that it would entail,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that talks to create humanitarian corridors in Idlib were ongoing. On Wednesday he called on the West not to stand in the way of an “anti-terror operation” in Idlib, saying: “This abscess needs to be liquidated.”
Turkish troops are also stationed in the area and Ankara — which backs the NLF — has expressed opposition to any large-scale offensive that sparks a new exodus of refugees.
An assault on Idlib by Damascus and Moscow could be the last major battle of the civil war that has torn Syria apart since 2011.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions forced to flee their homes.


Daesh defeated, ‘caliphate’ eliminated: US-backed SDF

Updated 25 min 45 sec ago
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Daesh defeated, ‘caliphate’ eliminated: US-backed SDF

  • The victory marks the end of the militants’ self-declared “caliphate”
  • The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks

BEIRUT: Daesh has been defeated at its final shred of territory of Baghouz in Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday, announcing the end of its self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.
The SDF declared the “total elimination of (the) so-called caliphate,” Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, wrote on Twitter.
“Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished,” he wrote.
The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks.
“We renew our pledge to continue the war and to pursue their remnants until their complete elimination,” he wrote.
Though the defeat of Daesh at Baghouz ends the group’s grip over the extremist quasi-state straddling Syria and Iraq that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.
Some of its fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.
The US believes the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq. He stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.