SAT 16 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 11, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Rebel attack in northwest Syria triggers govt response
BEIRUT/AMMAN: Syrian regime forces bombed villages and towns in the northwestern province of Idlib Tuesday after a surprise attack by insurgents that reportedly killed two-dozen soldiers, activists said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government bombardment targeted half a dozen rebel-held villages in the northwestern Idlib province, killing at least five civilians.

The activist-operated Idlib Media Center put the death toll at four.

The government assault came hours after rebels in Idlib seized the village of Ateera near the border with Turkey in a surprise attack. It was a rare advance for the armed opposition, which has suffered a series of major defeats across the country in recent months.

The Observatory and other activist-operated platforms reported that over two dozen soldiers were killed, including eight officers.

Another 40 government loyalists were wounded and six rebels were killed, head of the Observatory Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

Damascus Now, a pro-government media group on social media, said armed groups attacked a government border post late Monday near Ateera, located in Latakia province, setting off clashes that involved artillery shelling. The attack resulted in deaths among the Syrian army, it said, without providing figures.

The government is waging a wide-scale offensive in southern Syria, where it recently retook a major crossing on the border with Jordan, seized most of southern province of Deraa and encircled rebel-held parts of Deraa city.

Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold, is included in a “de-escalation” agreement negotiated by Russia and Iran, which support the government, and Turkey, which backs the opposition and has deployed a dozen observation points in the province.

Similar agreements elsewhere in the country have collapsed in the face of government offensives, and the government is expected to advance on Idlib province once it has secured other areas.

President Bashar Assad is poised to snuff out the rebellion in Deraa city where it began more than seven years ago, as rebels said Tuesday they were seeking to withdraw with Russian guarantees. Deraa rebels last week agreed to lay down arms and cease-fire in a deal brokered by Russia.

Rebel leaders from Deraa city met Russian officers in the town of Busra al-Sham Tuesday, a rebel official, Abu Shaima, said.

“The emphasis will be on the forced displacement,” he said, referring to the demand for safe passage to the opposition-held north.

The rebels were “completely besieged and all the cards are in the hand of the Russian guarantor”, said Abu Jihad, another rebel official.

A pro-Syrian government newspaper, Al-Watan, said “the coming hours will be decisive on the level of ending the chapter of terrorism in Deraa city.”

The government offensive is expected to turn next to nearby rebel-held areas of Qunaitra province, at the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The north and much of the east however remain outside Assad’s control and the presence of U.S. and

Turkish forces in those areas will complicate further advances for Damascus. In the Deraa town of Um al-Mayaden, retaken by the army, dozens of people chanted in support of Assad and the army during a government-organized trip Tuesday, a witness said. The opposition flag could still be seen painted on the wall of a checkpoint that government forces had taken over.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said army helicopters dropped leaflets on the rebel-held town of Al-Haara saying “there is no place for militants.” Separately, a suicide car bombing Tuesday killed eight newly reconciled fighters from pro-government and rebel ranks in an attack targeting a military position in Zeizoun, a village in the western countryside of Deraa province, claimed by Daesh (ISIS).

Rebels have agreed in recent days to hand over Zeizoun to regime control.

The offensive in southwestern Syria has triggered the biggest single displacement of civilians in the war, uprooting more than 320,000 people.

Large numbers of people have moved again in the few days since the cease-fire was agreed, some returning to their villages.

Rachel Sider, Syria advocacy and information adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council, said displaced people had been crossing back to areas that are subject to the agreement “because the expectation is that now there is a ceasefire that is holding, that will be the most stable and safe place.”

“But we also know that people still feel extremely scared. They are not very clear about who is in control of the places that they are from. We have seen a lot of confusion amongst people who are trying to make a decision about their families’ safety and their future,” she said.

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