Syrian rebels shoot down government warplane in northwest

Syrian government soldiers intensified their fighting in the past days. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

Syrian rebels shoot down government warplane in northwest

  • Syrian army captured 5 villages, including Tel Aas and Kfar Eean
  • Syrian military media said they fought Al-Qaeda-linked militants

BEIRUT: Rebels shot down a Syrian warplane in the opposition stronghold of Idlib province on Wednesday as Russian-backed government forces closed in on a strategically important town, rebel sources and a war monitor said.
A pilot who ejected from the plane was captured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on the war using a network of sources. Syrian state media made no initial mention of such an incident.
The hard-line extremists Tahrir Al-Sham, the most powerful insurgent group in the area, said its fighters had shot down a Sukhoi 22 jet that had taken off from a Syrian air base in Homs province.
The jet was downed near Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town that was hit by a sarin gas attack in 2017 and is now being targeted in a Russian-backed government offensive.
Government forces seized new ground from rebels near Khan Sheikhoun on Wednesday, advancing to within a few kilometers (miles) of the town. A rebel commander told Reuters that the town, in opposition hands since 2014, was in “great danger.”
Dozens of people were killed in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 in the poison gas attack that prompted President Donald Trump to order a missile strike against the Syrian air base from where the United States said it had been launched.
An investigation conducted by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the Syrian government was responsible for releasing sarin on the town on April 4, 2017. Damascus denies using such weapons.
Syrian rebels have shot down government planes on several occasions during the war that spiralled out of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
Tahrir Al-Sham’s statement did not say how the plane had been shot down. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy machine guns had been used.
The northwestern Idlib region is part of the last major stronghold of the opposition to President Assad.
Assad’s side had struggled to make any gains in the area in an offensive that got under way in late April. But since the collapse of a brief cease-fire this month, it has managed to take several significant positions, including the town of Al-Habeet on Saturday.
The advance toward Khan Sheikhoun threatens to encircle the last remaining pocket of rebel-held territory in neighboring Hama province, including the towns of Morek, Kafr Zeita and Latamneh.
The humanitarian adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria said the new surge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April.
Tahrir Al-Sham is the latest incarnation of the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which was Al-Qaeda’s official wing in the Syrian conflict until they parted ways in 2016.
The group is designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council.


Tunisia says militant leader killed in anti-terror raid

Updated 41 min 26 sec ago

Tunisia says militant leader killed in anti-terror raid

  • Tunisian armed forces and national guardsmen led the operation
  • A terrorist leader from the Al-Qaeda branch in Tunisia was killed

TUNIS: An Al-Qaeda leader was killed and another wounded during an anti-terror raid in Tunisia on Sunday, according to the country’s defense ministry.
Tunisian armed forces and national guardsmen led the operation against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the mountainous Kasserine region near the Algerian border, ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
“A terrorist leader from the Okba Ibn Nafaa group was killed” and another injured in the ongoing operation, he said.
Okba Ibn Nafaa is the Tunisian branch of AQIM.
Various extremiist groups are active in the rugged frontier region of Kasserine, including the Daesh group-affiliated Jund Al-Khalifa, or “Soldiers of the Caliphate.”
Security forces regularly carry out raids in the area.
Tunisia faced a rise in extremist activity after its 2011 revolution, with attacks killing dozens of security personnel, civilians and foreign tourists.
While the security situation has significantly improved since a series of deadly attacks in 2015, Tunisia has maintained a state of emergency for four years and assaults against security forces have persisted.