Cease-fire deal sees extremists take over Syria’s Idlib

Since September, Idlib has been shielded from a threatened government offensive by a precarious truce agreed between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Cease-fire deal sees extremists take over Syria’s Idlib

  • “This morning, HTS and the NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting...,” a propaganda website said
  • The agreement brings an immediate end to the fighting between Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF)

BEIRUT: The main extremist alliance in Syria’s Idlib region reached a deal on Thursday ending days of deadly fighting with rival rebels and extending its influence over the whole rebel enclave.
The agreement brings an immediate end to the fighting between Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, and the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), according to the extremists’ propaganda website Ebaa.
“This morning, HTS and the NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting... and establish the control of the salvation government in all areas,” Ebaa said.
The so-called “salvation government” is the administrative arm of HTS, which has been gaining ground inside Syria’s last major rebel bastion in recent days.
Since September, Idlib has been shielded from a threatened government offensive by a precarious truce agreed between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Thursday’s deal saw the whole rebel enclave come under HTS administrative control.
Other extremist factions — such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen group and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) — are present in other areas of Idlib but are allied with HTS, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
On Wednesday, a deal between HTS and rival rebel commanders saw the extremist-led alliance take control of two parts of Idlib, Sahl Al-Ghab and Jabal Shahshabo.
Last week, HTS seized dozens of villages from another NLF faction in the northeast of the enclave.


Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

Updated 22 February 2019
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Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

  • The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria
  • The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital

NEAR BAGHOU: Trucks loaded with civilians left the last Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Friday, as US-backed forces waited to inflict final defeat on the surrounded militants.
Reporters near the front line at Baghouz saw dozens of trucks driving out with civilians inside them, but it was not clear if more remained in the tiny pocket.
The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.
The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2017, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.
The US-led coalition which supports the SDF has said Islamic State’s “most hardened fighters” remain holed up in Baghouz, close to the Iraqi frontier.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, earlier told Reuters that more than 3,000 civilians were estimated to still be inside Baghouz and there would be an attempt to evacuate them on Friday.
“If we succeed in evacuating all the civilians, at any moment we will take the decision to storm Baghouz or force the terrorists to surrender,” he said.
Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Islamic State and the wider conflict in Syria, the militant group is still seen as a major security threat.
It has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River — a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a US pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.
Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 troops, saying they had defeated Daesh militants in Syria.

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