Intense bombardment continues as Syrian troops advance in Idlib

Opposition fighters pose for a picture with the remains of a downed regime warplane near the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the south of Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2019

Intense bombardment continues as Syrian troops advance in Idlib

  • Three villages fall in morning hours and town of Khan Sheikhoun is being shelled relentlessly

BEIRUT: Syrian forces gained more ground from insurgents in the country’s northwest on Thursday, edging closer to a major opposition-held town a day after militants shot down a regime warplane in the area.

The regime offensive, which intensified last week, has displaced nearly 100,000 people over the past four days, according to the Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief group active in northwestern Syria.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive in Idlib and its surroundings, the last major opposition stronghold in Syria, since April 30. The region is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced in other battles around the war-torn country.

The fighting over the past days has been concentrated on two fronts as regime forces march toward the town of Khan Sheikhoun from the east and west. The latest offensive also aims to besiege opposition-held towns and villages in northern parts of Hama province, according to opposition activists.

The town of Khan Sheikhoun is a stronghold of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, the most powerful group in the opposition-held areas. The town was the scene of a chemical attack on April 4, 2017 that killed 89 people.

At the time, the US, Britain and France pointed a finger at the Syrian regime, saying their experts had found that nerve agents were used in the attack. Days later, the US fired 59 US Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Air Base in central Syria, saying the attack on Khan Sheikhoun was launched from the base.

The Syrian regime and its Russian allies denied there was a chemical attack.

The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said on Thursday pro-regime forces captured three small villages, just west of Khan Sheikhoun.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said the villages fell in the morning hours and that the town of Khan Sheikhoun is being bombarded relentlessly.

Syrian state media confirmed that opposition fighters had downed the regime plane on Wednesday. An Al-Qaeda-linked group has released a video of the pilot in which the handcuffed man identified himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Syrian air force.

In the video, the pilot says his fighter jet was shot down when he was carrying out a mission near Khan Sheikhoun.


Yemeni government back in Aden under deal with separatists

Updated 24 min 44 sec ago

Yemeni government back in Aden under deal with separatists

  • Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed landed in Aden, fulfilling a key point in the power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia
  • Saeed was accompanied by five key ministers from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government

ADEN: Yemen’s internationally recognized government returned to the war-torn country on Monday for the first time since it was forced out by southern separatists during clashes last summer.
Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed landed in Aden, fulfilling a key point in the power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia that ended months of infighting with separatists in Yemen’s south.
“The government’s priorities in the next stage are to normalize the situation in Aden first and then consolidate state institutions on the ground ... as a guarantor of stability,” Saeed told The Associated Press when he disembarked onto the tarmac.
He described the government’s return as “foundational for the improvement of civic services,” but added that “security challenges cannot be overlooked, especially at this stage.”
Saeed, accompanied by five key ministers from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, was received by local officials and Saudi forces at the air base.
“Today we are uniting our efforts to defeat the Iranian project in Yemen and restore the state,” the government said in a statement.
In August, the separatists, overran Aden and drove out forces loyal to President Hadi, who has been based in Saudi Arabia since 2015.
The outbreak of violence between nominal partners in the coalition fighting against Iran-allied Houthi rebels added a new twist to the country’s complex civil war.
The power-sharing deal, signed earlier this month in Riyadh, calls for both sides to pull their forces out of Aden. That leaves the city under the coalition’s control, with only a presidential guard for Hadi’s protection if the exiled president were to return.
The agreement also asks that the separatists break up their militias and integrate them into Hadi’s forces.
“The plan for incorporating the security services needs to be clear and transparent,” Saeed told The Associated Press. “We have the support of the Saudis and the coalition leaders, factors that will help to implement the agreement through promising steps on the ground.”
The conflict in the Arab’s world’s poorest country started in 2014, when the Houthi rebels captured the capital, Sanaa, along with much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015 to drive out the Houthis and restore Hadi’s government.

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