Syrian forces try to besiege the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Syrian regime forces were trying Thursday to besiege the city of Khan Sheikhoun, on the highway in the mainly Idlib province controlled by jihadists who shot down a Syrian fighter and arrested its commander, an NGO said.

Some areas in Hama, Latakia and Aleppo governorates also remain outside the control of the Syrian regime eight years after the start of the conflict.

Since April, these areas, which are controlled by HTS and where there are also some fighting factions, have been subjected to almost daily bombardment by the regime and its Russian ally.

Pro-regime forces have been advancing on the ground for three days and are now three kilometers (three miles) from Khan Sheikhoun in the northwest, after seizing five nearby villages on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

This city is located on a main highway, passing through Idlib and connecting Damascus to Aleppo.

The director of the observatory Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP that “the goal of progress is to besiege Khan Sheikhoun and access to the highway.”

Over the past years, the Syrian regime has succeeded in asserting control of about 60% of the country thanks to the support of Russia and Iran.

-Drop a plane-

Meanwhile, jihadists on Wednesday shot down a Syrian warplane flying east of Khan Sheikhoun and arrested its commander, the first such incident since the escalation began in the area, according to the Observatory.

The HTS claimed responsibility for the operation and published a video on Thursday showing the captive pilot who identified himself as Lt. Col. Mohammed Ahmed Suleiman of the Syrian Air Force.

The fighting in southern Idlib on Wednesday night killed five fighters in the ranks of government forces and 11 jihadists and gunmen.

A civilian was also killed in Syrian airstrikes on a village in southern Idlib province, according to the observatory.

The intensity of aerial bombardment and the advancement of forces loyal to the regime in recent days have led to significant displacement in the area.

Since the end of April, 1,300 jihadist and faction fighters have been killed, as well as more than 1,140 members of the regime’s forces and those loyal to it, according to the Observatory.

In the same period, 820 civilians were killed, according to the Observatory. The violence has displaced more than 400,000 people, according to the United Nations.

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. But it has not been implemented.

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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