Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters load ammunition at a frontline near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb
  • Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways
  • Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting

AMMAN: Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb, the first significant reverse for the Syrian army in a Russian-backed offensive that had made swift gains, the rebels said on Thursday.
Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways, following advances by the Syrian army in its bid to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front, said in a statement, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
With Russian backing, government forces aided by Iranian militias have gained ground in northwest Syria since December.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on Thursday that Russian-backed government forces had seized full control of southern Idlib province after fresh advances against the rebels.
Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in the southern Idlib area and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Observatory said.
The opposition advance on Saraqeb comes ahead of an end-February deadline set by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Turkey says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back.
Turkish and Russian officials were expected to hold a second day of talks in Ankara on Thursday on the conflict.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey to back the rebels and set up new outposts that rebels say was in preparation for a Turkish operation to push back Assad’s forces.
Ibrahim Al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with the rebel factions, said the seizure of the town eases pressure on rebels who in recent days lost a string of significant territory in southern Idlib province and Jabal al Zawiya highlands.
“The rebels this morning completed their control of Saraqeb after having advanced from several fronts. This eases the pressure after the Syrian army’s recent gains,” Idlibi said.
Saraqeb is at the juncture of two main roads linking the capital of Damascus and its second largest city of Aleppo and another highway west to the Mediterranean.
Taking back the M5 highway, which goes south to Damascus, from the insurgents had marked a big gain for Assad’s forces as they restored state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
Opening major highways in rebel hands to revive a shattered war economy has been a key goal of the Russian-led campaign.
“The opposition have now cut the highways and brought the regime to square one,” said Syrian opposition defector general Ahmad Rahhal.


Gaza imposes tighter virus restrictions, extends curfew

Updated 03 December 2020

Gaza imposes tighter virus restrictions, extends curfew

Gaza imposes tighter virus restrictions, extends curfew
  • Mosques, schools, universities and kindergartens will be closed from Saturday in the Gaza Strip, excluding high schools and nurseries
  • Medical and political sources warned last week of a spike in Covid-19 cases in the Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY: New measures to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Gaza Strip were announced on Thursday by the interior ministry of Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave.
Mosques, schools, universities and kindergartens will be closed from Saturday in the Gaza Strip, excluding high schools and nurseries, the interior ministry said in a statement.
A night-time curfew was also set to start from Saturday, lasting from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 am, while a full lockdown will be imposed on Fridays and Saturdays from December 11 through to the end of the month.
Shops and other premises must close by 6:00 p.m. and people must be home by 6:30 pm, compared to 8:00 p.m. under the previous curfew rules.
Medical and political sources warned last week of a spike in Covid-19 cases in the Gaza Strip, saying the situation was “out of control.”
The enclave, a small, densely populated territory with two million inhabitants under an Israeli blockade, closed its borders early in the pandemic and only allowed a limited number of people to enter, requiring them to isolate for three weeks in quarantine centers.
Up until mid-August, authorities in Gaza had only recorded around 100 Covid-19 cases.
But in the past two weeks, containment of the virus has deteriorated in Gaza, with hundreds of new infections announced per day, resulting in a total of 23,023 cases and 122 deaths.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is among those who have recently been infected by the virus, the movement said Tuesday.