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.


US approves $3.8 billion F-16 sale to Morocco

Updated 12 min 53 sec ago
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US approves $3.8 billion F-16 sale to Morocco

WASHINGTON: he United States on Monday approved the sale of 25 F-16 fighter aircraft to Morocco for $3.8 billion, the State Department announced.
Besides the new Block 70/72 F-16s, equipped with state of the art electronic systems and weaponry, Washington also approved the modernization of 23 F-16s already in the Moroccan air force fleet, for $983 million.
The State Department said the sale would not affect the balance of forces in the region.
It can still be blocked by the US Congress, which has 30 days to raise any objections.
More than 4,500 of the Lockheed Martin-built F-16s have been delivered since 1978.
It is gradually being replaced by the stealth F-35 fighters but more than 3,000 of F-16s are still in use in 25 countries, thanks to constant upgrades.
The Moroccan military ordered 24 F-16s in 2008. It lost one aircraft in action in 2015 during Saudi-led air operations in Yemen.