Regime regains ground in Idlib counterattack

Syrian army offensive in Idlib worries France, wants Astana deal respected

Ninety-six civilians, including 27 children, have been killed in Syrian or Russian airstrikes on Idlib province since the start of the offensive, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The regime hopes to seize control of southeast parts of Idlib province to secure a main road between the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo. The Syrian army, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began an offensive in late October in Hama province. A Syrian military source denied this and dismissed rebel talk of a counter attack as propaganda.

Activists posted two videos on Thursday, the first purports to show a number of Syrian soldiers taken captives by the rebels when they stormed Khalakhel, while the second one showed a warplane crashing over Idlib countryside.

Director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Programme at the Middle East Institute, Charles Lister tweeted yesterday that major factions including Ahrar Al-Shaam, Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki and the Free Idlib Army were recipients of the weapons, but not the largest opposition conglomerate and former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam.

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Since losing the airbase in 2015 following a two-year jihadist siege, the Syrian government has only had control of two villages in Idlib province: Fua and Kafraya.

It added that the rebels had used Turkish vehicles.

"Residential areas are being hit day and night by strikes from the ground and from the air, forcing civilians to hide in basements", he said in a statement.

It also said it was "outraged" by the ongoing siege in Eastern Ghouta, another rebel-held area, where the United Nations human rights chief said on Wednesday that at least 85 civilians have been killed since December 31.

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