UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Regime forces are close to controlling Ma`rat al-Numan, the second largest city in Idlib Governorate, in northwestern Syria, which has become almost empty of residents after weeks of clashes and heavy shelling with Russian air support.
Idlib governorate and its adjacent areas, which are home to three million people, about half of whom are displaced, have been witnessing a military escalation since December of the regime forces and their ally Russia, concentrated in the southern Idlib countryside and western Aleppo, where part of the international road that links the city of Aleppo with the capital, Damascus, passes.
Damascus reiterates its intention to restore the entire Idlib area and adjacent parts to it in Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, despite several armistice agreements reached over the past years in the governorate, most of which are under the control of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and other less influential opposition factions are active in it.
An AFP correspondent near Ma`rat al-Numan said that the aerial bombardment is concentrated on the international road north of the city towards Saraqib, as well as on its western countryside.
The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that since Friday evening, regime forces had taken control of 14 villages and towns east and northeast of Ma`rat al-Numan, and that “the city had become almost besieged,” noting that “the bombing does not stop targeting the city.”
The regime forces are concentrated today in the south, north and east of Ma`rat al-Numan, and after they finally reached their eastern outskirts, they are currently seeking, according to Abd al-Rahman, to advance from the western side.
The observatory reported the killing of two civilians on Monday in “Russian” air strikes in a village in the southern Idlib countryside.
Parallel to the progress toward Ma`rat al-Numan, regime forces are engaged in violent clashes against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other factions west of the city of Aleppo.
Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian government, reported that “the Syrian Arab Army recorded a new epic yesterday, by making progress in Aleppo with the start of its military operation, and continued its advance in the southeastern Idlib countryside towards Ma`rat al-Numan, which has become just around the corner or falling from its grip.” .
According to the newspaper, the regime forces cut the international road between the cities of Maarat al-Numan and Saraqib to the north.
Since December, heavy shelling has forced residents of the southern countryside of Idlib, especially Ma`rat al-Numan and its surroundings, to flee, until the city has become almost presently inhabited, according to an AFP correspondent who reported completely destroyed or abandoned buildings and scattered markets.
Abdel-Rahman stated that “there are only a few residents left who refused to leave or the young men who took up arms to fight.”
– “Survival” –
On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern about the escalation in Aleppo and Idlib.
“The attack (…) makes the lives of thousands difficult, forcing them to flee on risky trips without shelter, scarce food and limited health care. All they want is to survive,” she wrote on Twitter.
The escalation since December has pushed about 350,000 people to move from southern Idlib, especially Ma`rat al-Numan, to safer areas to the north, according to the United Nations.
Many took refuge in areas north of Maarat al-Numan, including the city of Saraqib and its environs, but were again forced to flee as the military escalation approached them. On Monday, two AFP photographers saw cars and trucks loaded with civilians, and their belongings were moving north.
The displaced carry their household necessities such as mattresses, clothes and utensils, as well as their sheep and agricultural machinery.
After fleeing from the Jabal al-Zawiya area north of Ma`rat al-Numan, Umm Hussein said, “All people started fleeing at night, we went out with our purposes, we do not know which way to go.”
Umm Hussein arrived in the town of Hazano near the Turkish border north of Idlib, crying before adding: “I left my daughter, I do not know her news and she is about to give birth. I left all my relatives and I do not know what will happen with them.”
In western Aleppo, the United Nations reported that only 38,000 people were displaced between 15 and 19 January.
Since the jihadi and warring factions took over the entire province in 2015, regime forces with Russian support have escalated their bombardment of the province or launching ground attacks that are making progress and usually ending with truce agreements sponsored by Russia and Turkey.
After weeks of violent bombing, Russia announced on the ninth of this month to reach a ceasefire agreement that was later confirmed by Turkey, but it only lasted for a few days.
During a four-month offensive that ended with a truce at the end of August, regime forces took control of large areas in the countryside’s southern countryside, most notably the town of Khan Sheikhoun, also on the international road.
Observers believe that the regime forces are seeking, through their attacks in Idlib, Idlib, to gradually regain control over the part that passes in Idlib and western Aleppo from this road, in order to fully control it.
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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