Syrian regime forces storm key rebel-held town: monitor

This Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, photo, released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian army soldiers chant slogans as they hold their rifles, in western rural Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)
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Updated 28 January 2020

Syrian regime forces storm key rebel-held town: monitor

  • Maaret Al-Numan in Idlib “is fully encircled and regime forces"
  • Damascus loyalists have since Friday seized more than 23 towns and villages around Maaret Al-Numan

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces on Tuesday stormed Maaret Al-Numan, a rebel-held town of symbolic and strategic importance in the country’s last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.
Maaret Al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib “is fully encircled and regime forces have started to storm a western section of the town,” which is mostly deserted after months of bombardment, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Fighting is now going on inside,” said Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman, adding that regime and Russian warplanes are pounding the area.
Maaret Al-Numan lies on the M5 highway linking Damascus to Syria’s second city Aleppo, a main artery coveted by the regime as it tries to rekindle a moribund economy.
It is also the second biggest urban center in the beleaguered opposition bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria, and has been outside regime control since 2012.
Damascus loyalists have since Friday seized more than 23 towns and villages around Maaret Al-Numan, fully encircling it, the Observatory said.
The advance is part of a multi-pronged regime push in northwest Syria, dominated by extremists of the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance and their rebel allies.
The violence has displaced around 358,000 people in Syria’s northwest since December, the United Nations says.
In areas north of Maaret Al-Numan, bombardment by regime ally Russia has prompted a fresh wave of displacement in recent days, with hundreds of vehicles packing a key exit route toward areas near the border with Turkey, according to the Observatory and AFP correspondents.
Most were fleeing the town of Saraqib and the Jabal Al-Zawiya region, both of which are located north of Maaret Al-Numan.
Russia has bombed areas around the main exit routes, despite the heavy outflow of civilians, according to the Observatory.
Misty Buswell of the International Rescue Committee warned the latest escalation “will only add to the humanitarian catastrophe that is already unfolding.”
The Idlib region is home to three million people, half of whom have already been displaced from other parts of the country.


Turkey’s Erdogan says no agreement yet on four-way Syria summit

Updated 25 February 2020

Turkey’s Erdogan says no agreement yet on four-way Syria summit

  • Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raid

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that there was not yet full agreement on holding a proposed March 5 summit with Russia, France and Germany on the conflict in Syria’s Idlib, but he may meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin on that date.
Syrian government forces are pushing to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war and nearly a million Syrians, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the fighting since early December.
At a news conference in Ankara before departing on a trip to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said that a Russian delegation was set to come to Turkey on Wednesday to discuss the Idlib situation.
“There is no full agreement yet between (French President Emmanuel) Macron ... (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, and Putin,” he said. Macron and Merkel have both urged Putin to end the conflict, concerned about the humanitarian situation.
On Saturday, Erdogan said that Turkey had set out a “road map” for Syria after calls with the three leaders, while the Kremlin has said it was discussing the possibility of holding a four-way summit.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raids and 17 members of the Turkish forces have been killed. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another wave and has closed its borders.