Syrian government gains ground from rebels in northwest

Reuters , Thursday 8 Aug 2019

smoke billowing
This picture taken on August 5, 2019 shows smoke billowing above buildings during a reported air strike by government forces on Khan Sheikhun in the south of the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. (Photo: AFP)

Syrian government forces seized territory from insurgents in northwestern Syria on Thursday, state media and a war monitor said, building on advances since the military declared an end to a brief ceasefire earlier this week.

The capture of al-Sakhr in northern Hama province followed the capture of two villages on Wednesday. The Russian-backed army operations resumed on Monday after the government accused Turkey of not abiding by commitments in the truce.

"The regime is advancing in a studied way," said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict. Government forces were nearing the rebel-held towns of Latamneh, Kafr Zayta and al-Habeet, he added.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces have struggled to make significant gains in more than three months of military operations in the northwest, the last major foothold of rebel groups, some of which are backed by Turkey.

Air strikes and bombardment of the rebel-held area by the Syrian government and Russian forces have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and killed at least 450 civilians since late April, the United Nations has said.

The Syrian government had said it would agree to the ceasefire on condition militants fulfilled a Russian-Turkish deal last year which aimed to create a demilitarised zone.

Though Turkey-backed rebel factions operate in Idlib province in the northwest, the dominant force there is the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham group, formerly known as the Nusra Front.

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