Assad regime forces gain ground in deadly Idlib push

Syrian boys play with plastic guns on the first day of Eid Al-Adha in Al-Dana in Syria's opposition-controlled Idlib region, near the border with Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 11 August 2019

Assad regime forces gain ground in deadly Idlib push

  • Most recent fighting focused on an area straddling Idlib and Hama provinces

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces seized a town on the edge of Idlib province on Sunday, a monitor said, their first ground advance since resuming an offensive on the opposition-dominated enclave more than three months ago.

The region of northwestern Syria, which is home to an estimated 3 million civilians, has come under almost daily Syrian and Russian bombardment since late April.

The most recent fighting focused on an area straddling Idlib and Hama provinces, a war monitor said, and claimed dozens of lives on both sides.

“Regime forces seized the town of Al-Habeet, in Idlib’s southern countryside, at dawn,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

The regime’s latest gains were in the north of Hama province, which lies to the south of Idlib.

The area has escaped the control of Bashar Assad’s regime since 2015 and is the last major bastion of opposition to his regime and its allies.

The capture of Al-Habeet, one of several strategic targets for advancing pro-regime forces, came after another night of deadly fighting, the Observatory said.

According to the Britain-based monitor’s tally, 70 combatants were killed on Saturday alone, 32 of them pro-regime forces. The remaining 38 were from the opposing ranks of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and allied opposition fighters.

Abdel Rahman said another 27 combatants, nine of them regime fighters, were killed in early fighting on Sunday.

He described Al-Habeet as “the first town in southern Idlib to be taken by the regime since the start of the escalation” in April.

The town is seen as a stepping stone toward Khan Sheikhun, one of the main towns in Idlib and the target of some of the eight-year-old conflict’s deadliest air strikes.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in recent weeks and aid groups have warned that an all-out assault on Idlib could turn the current humanitarian emergency into a catastrophe of proportions previously unseen.

The fighting is a violation of a deal which was reached by the battle’s two main foreign brokers — Russia and Turkey — but was never implemented.

Russia is Damascus’ main backer while Turkey holds sway over some opposition and militant forces along its border. The deal’s terms were never realistic but the agreement sealed in the Russian resort of Sochi in September 2018 staved off a fully fledged offensive that risks triggering the Syrian civil war’s bloodiest phase yet.


Outspoken Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo arrested in Turkey

Updated 31 min 5 sec ago

Outspoken Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo arrested in Turkey

  • Tataloo was preparing to travel to the UK when he was detained, reportedly at the request of Iran
  • Fans and colleagues fear for much-loved musician’s safety if sent back to Iran

LONDON: Amir Tataloo, one of the most popular Iranians on social media and outspoken critic of the regime in Tehran, was arrested on Tuesday as he prepared to leave for the UK.

The rapper, whose real name is Amirhossein Maghsoodloo, was detained in Turkey where he had been living to pursue his career in music. Reports said the arrest was at Iran’s request.

Tataloo, who has performed for the BBC, is a long-standing opponent of Iran’s ruling mullahs and has denounced the establishment for not licencing his music, which Iran deems “Western, non-Iranian and immoral.”

He has been arrested in Iran multiple times for his lyrics, which spoke out against the government’s human rights abuses and restrictions on press freedom.

Iran International TV channel reported that Turkish authorities are currently working to facilitate Tataloo’s extradition to Iran, prompting fears for his safety from colleagues and fans.

A fan-made petition advocating for his release had already garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

The administrator of Tataloo’s social media accounts, known as Ronak, warned that “if Amir is handed over to Iranian police, it is unclear what is going to happen.”

She said: “Think you wake up today and think that from tomorrow you will go to a European country after years of pain… but instead they touch you and want to bring you back to the same country where your life has always been in danger.”

Tataloo has more than 3.2 million followers on Instagram and 1.25 million on Facebook.

The arrest comes at a time of heightened civil unrest within Iran, which has been wracked by months of anti-government protests.