north syria: idlib fighting goes on & on

69 Killed in Two Days of Fighting in North Syria
Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com, Dec 1 2019

Often described as the last bastion of the Syrian rebellion, the Idlib Province is heavily controlled by AQ (ie Jabhat al-Nusra aka Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – RB at this point. Over the past two days, monitors have reported some of the heaviest fighting in months, as Syrian troops and their allies were hit by AQ, and tried to rebound by pushing into the area around Maarat al-Numaan. Early signs are that the fighting was high casualty, if not particularly decisive. The SOHR reported 69 people killed, with 36 pro-government fighters among the slain. In the end, no territory ended up changing hands for long. AQ had taken a few positions early on, but counter-attacks, backed by Russian airstrikes, reversed the course and returned things to the status quo. Civilians in the area around the fighting fled to the extent that they were able. The fighting over Idlib is likely to continue going forward, with the Syrian government keen to end AQ’s presence, and reclaim control over the last territory held by rebels not affiliated with any foreign power.

Nearly 70 dead in Syria regime clashes with Idlib militants
Omar Haj Kadour, AFP, Dec 1 2019

Surman (Syria) – Two days of clashes between regime forces and armed groups in Syria’s last major opposition bastion have killed nearly 70 on both sides, undermining a months-long ceasefire agreement, London’s SOHR (MI6 – RB) said Sunday. The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are “the most violent” there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August. On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maarat al-Numan region as warplanes pounded jihadists and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from the SAA. The SOHR on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day. At least 36 SAA troops were among those killed. An attack led by Syria’s former AQ affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting. Overnight, the SAA backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles. Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing. Air strikes on Sunday afternoon hit jihadist-run areas dozens of kilometres away from the main frontline, signalling a potential escalation. The Idlib region is controlled by the country’s former AQ affiliate. The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadi alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces, with battles also currently taking place in the latter. In August, government troops began a ground offensive that saw them retake several areas in southern Idlib. Between late April and the end of August, Idlib was pounded ceaselessly by SAA backed by Russian air power. A ceasefire announced by Russia in late August has reduced fighting, but air strikes and clashes increased in November. The Idlib front was the main focus of SAA before Turkey in October launched an invasion of northeast Syria. The Turkish operation against SDF who had controlled the region since 2012 paved the way for mass SAA deployments in the area for the first time in seven years. SAA troops arrived in positions bordering Turkey as well as other parts of the northeast under a deal with SDF seeking protection from Turkey and its Syrian proxies. On Sunday, the commander-in-chief of the SDF said Russian troops would deploy in three key areas under its control. Mazloum Abdi said after a meeting with the chief of Russian forces in Syria:

We have agreed on the deployment of Russian forces in Amuda, Tal Tamr and Ain Issa to secure safety and stability in the area.

SAA troops had already deployed in the three areas in October to help SDF contain Turkey’s invasion.

Syrian Army Developing Advance In Southern Idlib
South Front, Nov 25 2019

Tensions are heating up around the militant-held parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces. On Nov 22, the SAA conducted a wide-scale missile strike on militants’ positions in western Aleppo. According to pro-militant sources, at least 15 improvised rocket-assisted munitions were employed. 2 large weapon depots belonging to radicals were targeted. The strike came in response to the Nov 21 incident, when militant shelling killed or injured at least 37 people in the city of Aleppo. On Nov 23, the army eliminated several militants with anti-tank guided missiles and artillery strikes around Rakaya Sijneh and the al-Nar hilltop. On the same day, a Russian airstrike destroyed a headquarters of Jaysh al-Izaa, near Kafr Nabl, mostly known for its ties with AQ. On Nov 24, the army resumed its ground operation against HTS and other radical groups in southern Idlib. Backed up by air and artillery strikes, army troops liberated the town of Misherfah and secured several positions around it. Militants carried out two counter-attacks to recapture Misherfah, but they were repelled. According to pro-government sources, up to 9 militants were eliminated. Earlier in November, government forces liberated Luwaybidah and the Khaznah Hill in the same area. It’s expected that the SAA and its allies will continue their counter-terrorism efforts and further steadily cleaning southern Idlib. On Nov 23, a coalition of Turkish-backed militant groups known as the Syrian National army, launched a wide-scale attack on positions of the SDF and the SAA near Ayn Issa in northern Raqqa. By Nov 24, they had captured the villages of Saida, Mu’laq and al-Wasta, and reached the vicinity of Ayn Issa itself. Then, united forces of the SDF and the SAA pushed Turkish-backed militants back recapturing Saida, Mu’laq and al-Wasta, and once again securing the area. Despite this, artillery duels along the contact line north of Ayn Issa continued. Over the past weeks, the Turkish Army established several fortified positions near the M4 highway in northern Raqqa and eastern al-Hasakah. Taking into account that Turkish proxies cannot carry out any large-scale offensive actions without Ankara’s approval, the Turkish leadership is likely aiming to use the instability in northeastern Syria to occupy more area. The M4 highway, which is the main transportation line in this part of the country, is an apparent target. CENTCOM chief Gen McKenzie revealed on Nov 23 that around 500 Pindo troops remain deployed on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and in al-Hasakah. These troops will soon resume their anti-terrorist activities, he added. The Pindo withdrawal from northern Syria allowed it to avoid the involvement in the ongoing standoff over the so-called Kurdish question. Faschingstein used the gained time to fortify its positions in oil-rich areas of eastern Syria.

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