The Syrian army has captured two towns near the terrorists’ stronghold of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib, reaching the edges of a major bastion of foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants. In their large-scale advance on Thursday night, the troops captured the small town of Madaya and immediately secured it in order to prevent the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists from reentering it. The next target after Madaya was the hilltop town of Tal al-Arjahi, which was briefly contested, but later ended with terrorists fully retreating back toward Khan Shaykhun. The Syrian army has now put its troops at the northwestern flank of Khan Shaykhun, marking the farthest advance north that the army has made in the Idlib Governorate. The government troops are working to surround Khan Shaykhun from its western and eastern axes, but the progress of the battle in the east is slow in comparison to the west. Last Sunday, Syrian fighter jets carried out a string of airstrikes against the positions of foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants in the southern part of Idlib, pounding militant bases in the towns of Khan Shaykhun, al-Tamanah, Hass, Madaya, Kafrsajna, Rakaya Sijneh, and Hazarin as well as Hish. By Thursday, the ground forces had gained control of five villages to the northwest of Khan Shaykhun. As the advances continued, Syrian air defense intercepted and destroyed a missile coming from northern Lebanon over the western-central governorate of Hama, state media said. Quoting an unnamed military source, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported that the “hostile” missile was shot
Members of the al-Ali family were walking home from shopping when several shells slammed into the busy street on the western edges of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The blast tore through them, killing 2-year-old Salam and one of her cousins, and incinerated a car nearby with a woman and her infant daughter inside. It was one of multiple attacks by rebels firing from Aleppo’s outskirts that killed more than a dozen civilians last month. Nearly three years have passed since President Bashar Assad’s forces gained full control of Aleppo, sweeping out rebels who had held the eastern half of the city through years of fighting. That victory made Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — a symbol of how Assad succeeded with crucial assistance from Russia and Iran in turning the tide of the long civil war, clawing back most opposition-held territory in the country’s heartland and ensuring Assad’s survival. But Aleppo is equally a symbol of how Assad has been unable to secure full victory in the war or bring total security to Syria’s people — and appears unlikely to in the near future. Half of Aleppo remains destroyed, much of its population is scattered, and deadly attacks like the July 24 mortar fire that killed Salam — whose name means peace in Arabic — are still common. Aleppo still sits on the edge of the opposition’s last major stronghold, a territory stretching across the neighboring province of Idlib and parts of Hama province. From positions on Aleppo’s outskirts,
A Canadian citizen held in Syrian prisons since last year and freed after Lebanese mediation said Friday he had no idea if anyone knew he was still alive. Kristian Lee Baxter appeared emotional and at times jittery at a press conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut. The Lebanese general who mediated his release said Baxter was heading home. It was not clear when Baxter was released from Syria. Details of Baxter’s detention were not immediately available but Canadian media reported last December he was detained while in war-torn Syria, where he was traveling seeking an adventure. Canadian officials declined to provide further information, citing privacy provisions. Lebanon’s General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim said Baxter was detained for what Syrian authorities considered a “major violation” of local laws, adding that authorities there may have considered the incident security related. He didn’t elaborate. Baxter appeared briefly on a podium, shared with Ibrahim and the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuelle Lamoureux. He was emotional and choked on his words as he tried to hold back tears. “I’d just like to thank the Canadian embassy for helping me,” Kristian Lee Baxter said, reaching to hold the shoulder of the Canadian ambassador. “I would like to thank the Lebanese for helping me get free. I thought I would be there forever, honestly.” He added, wiping his eyes: “I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive.” Baxter’s release marked the second time Lebanon has helped free a foreigner held in Syria. Last month, Ibrahim
Syrian government forces seized ground from insurgents in northwestern Syria on Thursday, sources on both sides said, building on advances since the military declared an end to a brief ceasefire earlier this week. The humanitarian adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said the new upsurge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April. The Russian-backed army operations resumed on Monday after the government accused neighbouring Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in the area, of not abiding by commitments in the truce. The army’s capture of al-Sakhr in northern Hama province on Thursday followed the taking of two villages on Wednesday. A rebel commander said government forces had been able to advance in the northern Hama area due to heavy air and artillery strikes. “The situation is difficult but recovering the positions we lost is not impossible and we will work on that,” Colonel Mustafa Bakour of the Jaish al-Izza rebel group told Reuters by text message. Assad’s side has struggled to make significant gains in more than three months of military operations in the northwest, the last major foothold of rebel groups in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the eight-year-old conflict, said the advances by Assad’s side over the last two days were its most significant since June, noting that the army was closing in on three rebel-held towns. Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said 64 combatants had been killed in the
“The first assessment is that a Russian-made missile … which was part of the air defence system that took place last night in the face of an air strike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay said in a post on Facebook.
Russian and Syrian forces intensified air strikes and shelling in rebel-held northwestern Syria overnight, the heaviest assault since the area was declared a demilitarized zone under a Russian-Turkish deal, residents and medics said on Thursday. The targeted villages and towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib fall within a buffer zone agreed last September between Russia and Turkey as part of a deal which averted a major offensive on the area.
Schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit, United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis told Reuters on Thursday. “The barrel bombing is the worst we have seen for at least 15 months.”
He added that 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Earlier this week, the United States warned violence in the buffer zone “will result in the destabilisation of the region”.