Syria regime forces battle militants for key town, highway

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Smoke billows following reported regime air strikes on the village of Kafr Sajna in the southern outskirts of Syria's Idlib province on August 16, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 18 August 2019

Syria regime forces battle militants for key town, highway

  • The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime
  • Pro-regime forces have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun

BEIRUT: Syrian pro-regime forces fought pitched battles Sunday with insurgents as they inched closer to a extremist-run town in the northwestern province of Idlib, a war monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “fierce clashes” between loyalist forces, militants and allied rebels were taking place one kilometer (0.6 miles) west of Khan Sheikhun.
The latest fighting broke out overnight Saturday to Sunday and has already killed 26 extremists and allied rebels and 11 members of the pro-regime forces, the war monitor said.
The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime.

The road runs through Idlib, connecting government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, which was retaken by loyalists from rebels in December 2016.
Pro-regime forces are deployed around three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the road and have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun from the north and the west and seize the highway.
On Sunday they retook the village of Tel Al-Nar and nearby farmland northwest of Khan Sheikhun “and were moving close to the highway,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
But their advance from the east was being slowed down due to “a ferocious resistance” from militants and allied rebels.
Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of the neighboring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.
A buffer zone deal brokered by Russia and Turkey last year was supposed to protect the Idlib region’s three million inhabitants from an all-out regime offensive, but it was never fully implemented.
Regime and Russian air strikes and shelling since late April have killed more than 860 civilians, according to the Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
On Sunday air strikes by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia killed two people, including a child, in the south of Idlib, the Observatory said.
More than 1,370 insurgents and over 1,200 pro-regime forces have been killed since April, according to the monitor.
The violence has displaced more than 400,000 people, the United Nations says.
“Many of these people have been displaced up to five times,” the UN’s regional spokesman for the Syria crisis, David Swanson, told AFP on Saturday.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad since starting with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.


Pompeo begins Greece talks to calm eastern Mediterranean tensions

Updated 28 September 2020

Pompeo begins Greece talks to calm eastern Mediterranean tensions

  • Pompeo began his two-day visit by meeting Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Thessaloniki

ATHENS: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began talks on Monday in Greece to de-escalate tension in the eastern Mediterranean and boost tentative steps at dialogue between Athens and Ankara.
Pompeo began his two-day visit by meeting Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Thessaloniki. Neither side has released a statement.
“Thrilled to be back in Greece, a vital US partner with whom we share a common strategic vision,” the secretary of state tweeted on Monday.
“The strength of our bilateral relationship is at an all-time high, and I’m looking forward to a productive visit.”
Ahead of the trip, a senior US official said Washington was keen to tamp down the tension, reduce the likelihood of “accidents or incidents” and for Greece and Turkey to complete an agreement.
The two NATO members are at loggerheads over energy exploration in disputed waters after Ankara stepped up hydrocarbon research in the sea.
The row has roped in other European powers, raising concern about a wider escalation.
But last week Athens and Ankara said they were ready to start talks.
“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Mitsotakis said on Friday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an address to the virtual UN General Assembly.
Pompeo will fly to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and tour the NATO naval base of Souda Bay.
Mitsotakis – who is hosting Pompeo at his family home on Crete – wants closer military ties with the US.
The secretary of state signed defense agreement last October allowing US forces a broader use of Greek military facilities.
A key element of the October deal was the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, a Balkans and Black Sea gateway of strategic value to the US navy and NATO.
The US has been granted priority status to the port after paying roughly $2.3 million to remove a sunken dredging barge that had blocked part of the harbor since 2010.
At the time, Greek officials said the Pentagon was expected to invest over $14 million on the Greek air base of Larissa and around six million euros at Marathi, part of the Souda base.
The visit to Thessaloniki is also intended as a sign to the Balkans on American willingness to invest in the region, the State Department said.
Pompeo will sign a bilateral science and technology agreement, and host an energy sector gathering of business leaders.
Pompeo’s tour later in the week also includes stops in Italy, the Vatican and Croatia.
In Rome, the secretary of state will discuss efforts by the Trump administration to deter its European allies from using equipment by Chinese manufacturer Huawei in developing their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.
Pompeo is also scheduled to attend a meeting at the Vatican on religious freedom, his human rights priority. There, too, he will warn of China’s actions against minorities, including Muslims.