UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Syrian government forces clashed with fighters and came under Turkish artillery fire while trying to take control of the city of Saraqib in the northwestern Idlib governorate as part of a new attack to retake the last stronghold of the opposition forces, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The rapid progress of the Syrian army in Idlib Governorate, supported by Russian air strikes, has led to a new wave of displacement of civilians towards the border with Turkey in the past two weeks, which threatens a military confrontation with Turkey, whose president threatened to expel the Syrian forces from there.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoوlu said that Ankara expected Russia to immediately stop the attacks of the Syrian government in the northwestern Idlib region, which killed eight Turkish army personnel on Monday and prompted Turkish forces to retaliate.
“We have informed our Russian counterparts of our resolve,” he added, noting that Ankara is determined to stop the “human tragedy” in Idlib, which it says has displaced nearly a million people.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a report confirmed by witnesses that the Syrian government forces backed by air strikes surrounded and entered Saraqib, 15 km east of Idlib, on Wednesday.
The city lies at the intersection of two main roads, President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to control them completely, as part of a campaign to restore Idlib, the last stronghold of the opposition in the civil war that has lasted for nearly nine years.
The Syrian Observatory said that the opposition fighters succeeded in confronting the government forces and removing them from most parts of Saraqib in an attack from the northern side of the city coinciding with the Turkish bombing of the Syrian forces.
Witnesses said that government forces were bombed by Turkish observation posts in the area.
The fighting, which comes despite a ceasefire agreement between Turkey and Russia on January 12, is hampering the fragile cooperation between the two countries, which support two different parties to the conflict, raising concerns about their future cooperation.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that militant attacks in Turkey’s “responsibility area” in Idlib, Syria, were continuing against Syrian government forces and Russian military infrastructure.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there are currently no plans for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ease tension in Idlib, but such a meeting can be arranged quickly if necessary.
Russia also reported that some of its soldiers were killed in militant attacks, in its first confirmation of its losses in the current fighting.
Israeli air strikes
The Idlib battle marks a decisive stage of the war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of fighters and civilians, displaced millions at home and abroad, and has caused rifts in the Middle East region since it erupted in the midst of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.
The forces aligned with Assad, who has ruled Syria for nearly 20 years, failed to remove him from power but now he heads a devastated country.
The escalation in Idlib comes at a time of heightened tension between the United States and Iran, Assad’s other major military ally, after Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a US airliner airliner last month. Soleimani was responsible for Tehran’s military operations in the region and an important figure in the Syrian war.
The Syrian Ministry of Defense said that the air defenses against Israeli missiles over the capital, Damascus, early on Thursday, targeting military sites in the south of the country, including targets near the capital.
The ministry added that the missiles fired by Israeli warplanes came in two waves, the first near Damascus and the second near the Daraa and Quneitra governorates.
She added that the Syrian air defenses dropped a large number of missiles, but the attack resulted in material damage and injured eight “fighters” without mentioning their nationalities.
The Israeli army declined to comment.
Israel has repeatedly bombed targets of Iranian-backed groups in Syria, saying the goal is to end the country’s military presence in the country, which Western intelligence sources say has expanded in recent years.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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