|Date: Feb 14, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Idlib Daesh-free after surrender: Observatory, rebel spokesman|
|Agence France Presse|
BEIRUT/KUWAIT CITY: Daesh (ISIS) has been ousted from northwestern Syria’s Idlib province after a final group of the militants surrendered to hard-line rebels Tuesday, both a spokesman and an activist group said. Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict but that he had not yet seen any evidence that this was the case.
In Idlib, meanwhile, some 400 people including Daesh fighters, relatives and wounded, gave themselves up to an alliance of rebel groups Tuesday, said a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr faction that took part in the operation.
“We hit them with artillery in the town of Al-Khowein until they agreed to surrender,” Abu al-Majd al-Homsi said. Homsi said the fighters would be interrogated to find out whether they had planted sleeper cells in the area, and would be put on trial in “special courts.”
Daesh once held swaths of northern and central Syria including parts of Hama, Homs and Aleppo provinces and much of Raqqa, including its provincial capital.
After a string of major defeats last year, hundreds of Daesh fighters fled to a pocket of territory at the intersection of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
They have now been fully ousted from all three, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group.
Syrian government troops pushed them out of Hama and into Idlib province last week, Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
“Around 250 militants with their families, or 400 people in total, were besieged in Al-Khowein,” Abdel-Rahman said.
“Now, Idlib, Hama and Aleppo are completely clear of [Daesh].”
Daesh militants are still present in smaller numbers in the provinces of Homs, Deir al-Zor, Hassakeh, as well as around Damascus and in Syria’s south.
The Islamist and rebel fighters are now facing a ferocious government assault aimed at retaking key territory there.
Meanwhile, at the Elysee Palace Macron told reporters that he set a red line on chemical weapons and that Paris will attack Syrian regime targets if the line is crossed.
“We will strike the place where these launches are made or where they are organized,” he said.
“But today our services have not established proof that proscribed chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations,” he added.