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Syrian Troops Gain Ground in Idlib, Push Toward Turkish Observation Post

Syrian Troops Gain Ground in Idlib, Push Toward Turkish Observation Post

Sunday, 22 December, 2019 - 17:45
FILE PHOTO: People walk near rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Idlib, Syria May 27, 2019. Picture taken May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo

Russian-backed Syrian regime forces pushed deeper in their offensive on the last remaining opposition stronghold in the country's northwest on Sunday, getting very close to a Turkish observation post in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition's Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, reported shelling and airstrikes on opposition-held villages in Idlib province on Sunday, saying that at least one civilian was killed.

Idlib has been at the center of a Syrian forces' push under the cover of intense aerial strikes in recent weeks, with more than a dozen villages captured.

The offensive has already forced tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and flee, including thousands who crossed into neighboring Turkey seeking safety. The attacks resumed after a cease-fire in force since the end of August collapsed recently.

Saraqeb and Maaret al-Numan are two major opposition-held towns on the highway linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest. The two towns have been emptied of civilians since becoming the target of the offensive, which aims to reopen the highway, closed since 2012.

Syrian troops, advancing from the east toward Maaret al-Numan, neared the Turkish observation post outside the village of Surman from three sides, according to the Observatory. The Step news agency, an activist collective, said regime troops were now about 4 kilometers from the Turkish post.

Syrian state media made no mention of the post but said government forces captured several villages near Maaret al-Numan.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in the northwest, part of a deal with Moscow and Tehran in

2017 to avert large-scale fighting in Idlib.

Four months ago, Syrian troops captured all territory around another Turkish post in the village of Morek, also in Idlib province, leaving the Turkish monitors only a nearby road to use. No friction has since been reported between Syrian and Turkish troops in Morek.

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