SUN 26 - 5 - 2019
May 11, 2019
The Daily Star
Syrian militants try to retake village from govt troops
BEIRUT/ANKARA: Syrian militant groups launched a counteroffensive Friday to retake territory lost to government forces this week in their stronghold in the country’s northwest, state media and an activist group said.
Syria state Al-Ikhbariya TV claimed troops repelled the militant attacks against Kafr Nbouda village, which government forces had captured three days earlier as they pushed into the southern edge of the rebel enclave.
But the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants, led by Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, advanced into the village, sparking intense clashes and government airstrikes.
The latest wave of fighting is the most serious challenge to a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey last September. The rebel stronghold, which spans most of Idlib province and part of Hama in the country’s northwest corner, is the last pocket of anti-government groups in the 8-year-old civil war. Multiple foreign powers have intervened in the conflict, with Russia and Iran backing the government and Turkey supporting rebel factions.
A spokesman for the rebel umbrella group National Front for Liberation, Naji al-Mustafa, said that after the government attacks, rebels and militants from various factions coordinated to launch a new assault Friday to recapture Kafr Nbouda. Clashes were ongoing and the government had suffered losses, he said in a text message.
Kafr Nbouda was considered the first line of defense for the militant stronghold. Its capture Wednesday enabled government troops to advance to the east, regaining control of the town Qalaat al-Madiq.
U.N. officials estimate that the clashes have displaced over 150,000 people within the area since erupting last week.
“The situation inside Idlib and northwest Syria is dire and should escalation in violence continue, more desperate families will be displaced,” said Marwa Awad, spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Syria.
The agency was already forced to suspend aid delivery in the last few days to about 47,000 people of a total of 580,000 it had been reaching before the violence. Dozens of the newly displaced, many uprooted by violence several times before, are living out in the open in olive groves, unable to afford transportation to camps further north, Awad said.
The suspension has particularly hit Saraqeb, Jisr al-Shughur and Maaret al-Numan, towns in southern Idlib close to the intense fighting.
Late Thursday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and requested that the attacks on Idlib stop. Lavrov told Cavusoglu that the government’s attacks on Idlib had been halted, according to Anadolu.
A readout of the call posted on Russia’s Foreign Ministry website, however, did not mention a Russian pledge to stop the attacks. It only said that the two ministers discussed Idlib and the importance of “fighting against the terrorist threat on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar Friday accused the Syrian government of trying to expand its field of control in Idlib in violation of the cease-fire. Akar called for the government attacks to be halted.
Speaking to the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat daily, U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffery said Moscow had informed Washington that the current attack was “limited” to stop attacks by militants linked to HTS on the Russian military base in Syria’s coastal province adjacent to Idlib.
However, he said, it was not clear what Moscow and Damascus wanted, adding that Russia appeared more involved in the current offensive.
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