Syrian forces advance towards the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun – Observatory

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Regime forces are advancing on Wednesday towards the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the largest town in the southern countryside of Idlib in northwestern Syria, where they are engaged in fierce battles against jihadist and fighting factions, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Regime forces, backed by Russian air support, have been intensifying combat operations in the southern countryside of Idlib for nearly a week, after most clashes since the escalation began in the area at the end of April were confined to the northern countryside of Hama, adjacent to Idlib.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that “regime forces are now four kilometers from the city of Khan Sheikhoun from the west, after taking control of five small villages,” adding that “no longer separated from the city only agricultural land.”

On the east, fierce battles are taking place on Wednesday between regime forces, HTS fighters and factions, as regime forces try to take control of a strategic hill about six kilometers from Khan Sheikhoun.

Abdel Rahman said that the city “practically became between the jaws of pliers on both sides of the East and West.”

A strategic highway runs through the city, and Damascus wants to complete control of part of it that runs through Idlib and forms a vital artery linking the most important cities under its control.

AFP correspondents reported a large displacement in the areas of clashes and nearby ones on Wednesday.

According to the official Syrian news agency “SANA” that “units of the army continue its operations against terrorists Jabhat al-Nusra and its affiliates in the northern countryside of Hama and southern Idlib.” It quoted a military source as saying the army had taken control of several villages in the area.

Since the beginning of the regime’s escalation on Idlib and its surrounding areas, Khan Sheikhoun has been subjected to intensive Syrian and Russian raids, which did not exclude residential neighborhoods and service facilities, and forced the majority of its residents to flee, until it became almost empty.

HTS (Jabhat al-Nusra) previously controlled most of Idlib and parts of neighboring provinces. There are also less influential Islamist and opposition factions.

The fighting took place between the two parties on Wednesday, according to the observatory 27 fighters from the jihadist and fighter factions compared to 14 of the regime forces and militants loyal to it.

The Idlib area and its environs have been covered by a Russian-Turkish agreement since September 2018, providing for the establishment of a demilitarized zone separating areas controlled by regime forces and factions. It also requires the withdrawal of the opposition factions of heavy and medium weapons and the withdrawal of jihadist groups from the region concerned. However, its implementation has not been completed.

The agreement was relatively calm, before Damascus began to escalate since the end of April and Russia joined it later, causing the deaths of about 820 civilians according to the Observatory, and pushed more than 400 thousand people to the displacement, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this month, Damascus agreed to a four-day ceasefire before it decided to resume military operations, accusing the factions of breaching the agreement and targeting Russia’s Hmimim airbase for its troops in the coastal province of Latakia.

Syria has been plagued by a bloody conflict since its outbreak in 2011 that has killed more than 370,000 people and caused massive destruction of infrastructure, displacing more than half the population inside and outside the country.

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