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Fierce Battles Along Key Highway in Syria

Fierce Battles Along Key Highway in Syria

Monday, 19 August, 2019 - 06:00
A Syrian youth prepares to flee Khan Sheikhoun. AFP file photo
Ankara - London - Saeed Abdulrazek and Asharq Al-Awsat

Pro-regime forces have penetrated Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province for the first time since they lost control of it in 2014 amid fierce battles between them and the armed opposition.

Bashar Assad’s forces have since last week been advancing towards the strategic town, where a key highway links Aleppo to Damascus.

Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said regime forces retook the village of Tel Al-Nar and nearby farmland northwest of Khan Sheikhoun “and were moving close to the highway.”

But their advance from the east was being slowed down due to “a ferocious resistance” from militants and allied fighters, he told AFP.

A buffer zone deal brokered by Russia and Turkey last year was supposed to protect the Idlib region’s three million inhabitants from an all-out regime offensive, but it was never fully implemented.

In the same context, Turkish military sources hinted on Sunday that the army and allied Syrian opposition fighters would launch a military operation to protect Ankara’s 12 observation posts along the border of the buffer zone in Idlib, and to provide protection to civilians in the area in case ongoing efforts fail to install stability there.

The sources said that the 12 observation posts would not be removed, adding that Turkish forces will not withdraw from any point no matter what the size of escalation is.

Separately, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted on Sunday the Iranian foreign ministry as saying that a US agreement to set up a safe zone in northern Syria, a close ally of Iran, is “provocative and worrisome.”

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