Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

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Members of the Syrian regime forces move toward the town of Khan Sheikhun in the northern Idlib province on August 24, 2019, after they announced the total control of the city a day before. (AFP / Maher Al Mounes)
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Members of the Syrian government forces stand guard near tanks in the strategic town of Khan Sheikhun on August 24, 2019, after they announced the total control of the city a day before. (AFP / Maher Al Mounes)
Updated 25 August 2019

Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

  • Troops drive north toward Turkish border
  • Kurdish buffer zone ‘fully operational’

BEIRUT: Assad regime troops massed in northwest Syria on Saturday in preparation for a new drive north toward the border with Turkey.

The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition. Until last week, it was controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes captured the key town of Khan Sheikhun from the militants on Wednesday, and on Friday they overran the countryside to the south of the town.

“The day after they controlled the area south of Khan Sheikhun, regime forces began massing in the area north of it,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They were “preparing to continue their advance toward the area of Maaret Al-Noman,” a town about 25km north, he said.

Heavy bombardment hit the area on Saturday in preparation for a further push north. Thick gray smoke billowed up into a clear blue sky after a strike on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Noman. Like Khan Sheikhun, the town sits on the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, a key target for the regime to recapture.

However, the new offensive that began in April has heightened tension with Turkey, which fears an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting. Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region in an attempt to set up a buffer zone to protect civilians.

FAST FACTS

  • The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition.
  • Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region.

The regime accuses Turkey of using the observation posts to arm and supply the militants. Last week, airstrikes targeted a Turkish military convoy traveling south down the main highway toward one of the posts at Morek. The convoy was still stranded on Saturday north of Khan Sheikhun.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied the Morek observation post had been surrounded and said Turkish troops would not withdraw from the position.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east in Syria, a joint Turkish-US control center to establish and manage a safe zone is fully operational, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. 

“The command of the center is by one US general and one Turkish general,” he said, and the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone last week.

Syrian Kurds said on Saturday they would support the implementation of the buffer zone. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) played a key role in the battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as terrorists.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” said Mazloum Kobani, head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

 


Turkish minister in Libya for defense cooperation talks

Updated 03 July 2020

Turkish minister in Libya for defense cooperation talks

  • Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler discussed “military and security cooperation” with the head of the GNA
  • The visit comes a month after GNA forces declared they were back in full control of Tripoli and its suburbs

TRIPOLI: Turkey’s defense minister and military chief visited war-torn Libya’s capital on Friday, the country’s Government of National Accord (GNA) said, the second visit in weeks by a minister from its main international backer.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler discussed “military and security cooperation” with the head of the GNA Fayez Al-Sarraj and military officials, the government said.
The visit comes a month after GNA forces declared they were back in full control of Tripoli and its suburbs following a year-long offensive by eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital.
On June 17, Turkeys’ foreign and finance ministers Mevlut Cavusoglu and Berat Albayrak, along with intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, visited Tripoli for talks with Sarraj.
Friday’s talks covered defense and security training programs under a deal signed by Tripoli and Ankara in November last year, a statement said.
“Turkish support for (the GNA) continues in the areas of military and security cooperation,” said GNA deputy defense minister Salah Namrush.
Libya has been torn apart by bloodshed since the NATO-backed uprising which toppled the regime of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with two rival administrations now vying for power and control of the country’s vast oil wealth.