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Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Syrian regime advance on hold-out Idlib province

AFP , Saturday 8 Feb 2020
Idlib
Men sit on chairs along the side of a road in the town of Ariha, about 13 kilometres south of Idlib in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province on February 7, 2020, after most residents fled due to bombardment by approaching government forces (Photo: AFP)
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The Syrian army on Saturday seized a key crossroads town in the country's northwest, the latest gain in a weeks-long offensive to retake the country's last major rebel-held bastion of Idlib.

A recap:

Major offensive

On April 26 and 27, 2019, Russian aircraft carry out air raids on Idlib and Hama provinces, killing around 15 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Since January 2019, the region has been dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Russia, a key regime ally against an uprising that started in Syria in 2011, insists it targets only "terrorists".

On June 3, Human Rights Watch accuses the regime and Russia of using banned weapons, including cluster munitions and air-dropped "barrel bombs".

On July 22, strikes kill around 50 civilians, most of them at a market in Maaret al-Numan, the Observatory says.

Regime forces make advances in August, seizing the key town of Khan Sheikhun.

On August 31, a Russian-backed truce comes into effect.

On September 10, Russia carries out air strikes on jihadist targets for the first time since the truce.

New escalation

Regime bombardments kill about 13 civilians in Maaret al-Numan on December 2.

From mid-December, pro-government forces backed by Russian air power intensify their bombing and make steady advances on the ground.

On January 11, the day before a new Russian-backed ceasefire is due to go into effect, the regime carries out air strikes on Idlib, killing around 18 civilians according to the Observatory.

There is intense fighting between pro-government forces and jihadists, and the truce does not take hold.

On January 21, Russian strikes in Idlib and Aleppo provinces kill at least 23 civilians, including 13 children.

Key town recaptured

On January 29, government forces seize the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, a strategic prize on the key M5 highway connecting the capital to second city Aleppo.

Turkish flare-up

On February 3, in Turkish forces' deadliest incident since they deployed in Syria in 2016, they exchange shelling with Russian-backed Syrian troops, leaving more than 20 reported dead on both sides.

The World Health Organization says violence has forced the closure of 53 medical facilities in northwest Syria in January, warning of "critical health threats" to fleeing civilians.

On February 4 US officials say they "fully support Turkey's justified self-defence actions in response" to the Syrian regime's shelling.

New regime gain

The Syrian army seizes the strategic crossroads town of Saraqeb in Idlib province on February 8.

The violence has killed more than 300 civilians, according to the Observatory. The UN says some 586,000 civilians have fled the violence.

The UN and aid groups warn that scale of the exodus from Idlib risks creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the nearly nine-year war.

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