BEIRUT, JERUSALEM: Clashes between opposition groups and pro-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday thwarted regime’s advance and left 12 pro-regime men dead, a Britain-based war monitoring group said.
Another 17 pro-regime fighters were wounded while on the opposition-led side six fighters died, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, said the war monitor.
But the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, headed by ex-leaders of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and their allies reportedly thwarted the advance.
Four HTS and two other opposition fighters were killed in the clashes in a rural area of Latakia province, the monitor said.
The HTS-led alliance also controls large areas of Idlib province and slivers of territory in neighboring Aleppo and Hama.
The region they hold is home to some 3 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s 9-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.
The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
A Russian-backed regime offensive between December and March displaced nearly a million people in the region.
A Moscow-backed cease-fire agreement in March has reduced violence in the area, but shelling and airstrikes by the regime and its backers continue.
Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack.
Golan Heights Activity
The Israeli military said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria early on Monday staged by four suspected militants it accused of trying to plant explosives.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israeli troops earlier spotted “irregular” activity in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on the suspected militants, some of whom were armed, after observing them placing the explosives on the ground, Conricus said.
• Forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.
• The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
There was no official confirmation that the four suspected attackers were killed but a grainy video released by the army shows four figures walking away from barbed wire marking the frontier. The four then disappear in a large explosion that engulfs the area.
The Israeli military has not said if the four are suspected of ties to Iran or Hezbollah, two Syrian allies. However, Conricus said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for the incident.
Addressing Likud party lawmakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel “thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front” and would continue to “harm all those who try to harm us and all those who harm us.”
The incident comes amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. Following the airstrike, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria and Israel responded by attacking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.
Israel has been bracing for further retaliation and last week it said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.