First Published: 2017-12-29

Fighting kills dozens in rebel-held Syria province
Escalated campaign by Syrian regime forces, allies signals major offensive to wrest Idlib province from rebels.
Middle East Online

Idlib is last Syrian province entirely outside government control.

AL-TAMANA - Intense fighting killed dozens of people on the edge of the last Syrian province entirely outside government control as aid workers completed a series of medical evacuations from another rebel-held area on Friday.

Government and allied forces backed by Russian warplanes took on mostly jihadist fighters in an area straddling the border between Idlib and Hama provinces.

The fighting, which could signal the start of a major offensive to wrest Idlib province from rebels dominated by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, escalated on Thursday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 68 people have been killed since then and the clashes, centred around an area called Al-Tamana, continued on Friday.

At least 21 civilians were among the dead, said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based monitoring organisation.

They were killed in air strikes carried out by Russian warplanes and by barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft, he said.

He said 27 soldiers and members of allied paramilitary units were killed in the fighting as well as 20 rebels, from Islamist groups or from former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham.

Abdel Rahman said the latest deaths brought the number of civilians killed in the area since Monday to 42 and the death toll among combatants to 90.

The intensifying fighting in the area appeared to signal the start of a government offensive in Idlib province.

- Worst in months -

An AFP correspondent near the front line said aerial activity was intense and the entire area rocked by frequent air strikes.

Rebel leaders issued warnings through loudspeakers informing remaining civilians in the area that the mainly weekly Muslim prayers were cancelled and all residents should stay home.

Hundreds of civilians fled the scattering of villages in the area, creating queues of cars and pickup trucks loaded down with bags and furniture on the roads towards the city of Idlib.

"The air strikes haven't been that intense in months in this area," said Abdel Rahman, adding that the immediate goal of the latest regime push was to retake control of the southeast of the province.

The Islamic State jihadist group, which proclaimed a caliphate over swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, has now lost almost all the land it once controlled.

But other factions opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad still control pockets scattered across Syria, the largest one being Idlib province, which borders Turkey.

Another is Eastern Ghouta, a small enclave east of the capital Damascus, which is controlled mostly by rebels from the Jaish al-Islam group and where around 400,000 residents still live.

 

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

In Iraq's oil-rich Basra, shanty towns flourish

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire

Syria regime shells last jihadist pockets in Damascus

After the war is won, ‘we shall not return’ to Mosul

Saudi Arabia to host cinema test screening with 'Black Panther'

Trump voices support for US pastor jailed in Turkey

Rouhani says Iran will make or buy any weapons it needs

US fears ceding influence to Russia, Iran in Syria

Nationalist Erdogan ally calls for snap Turkey elections

Saudi renews offer to deploy troops to Syria

Kaveh Madani, Iran’s expat eco-warrior who was on too many fronts

UN to launch new Yemen plan to restart negotiations

Russia dismisses West's 'untimely' push on Syria

Turkey, Iran to press on with Russia alliance on Syria

Iraq sentences French IS member to life in jail

Inspection of Syria chemical attack scene in limbo

Golan Druze rally in support of Syria's Assad

Macron admits Syria strikes ‘solve nothing’

Rebels, regime agree new deal for exit from Syrian town

Syria retracts ‘false alarm’ missile attack report

Gulf split deepens in Somalia's Puntland region

MENA countries must spend $260 billion to meet power demands

Kuwaiti crown prince heads to the US for medical tests

Arab leaders unlikely to act on US Jerusalem move

EU to start talks with Morocco on new fishing deal inclusive of Western Sahara

Saudi-led coalition warns of 'painful' response over Yemen drones

France seeks to revoke Assad's Legion of Honour

Syrian air defence shoots down missiles over Homs