Syria army overruns key Idlib crossroads town

Saraqeb is the second key highway town to be recaptured by government forces in the past two weeks, after the rebels were pushed out of Maaret al-Numan last month. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Syria army overruns key Idlib crossroads town

  • Syrian troops said they were combing the area for landmines and explosives left behind by the militants and allied rebels
  • The violence has displaced 586,000 people since December

ISTANBUL: The Syrian army took control of the strategic northwestern crossroads town of Saraqeb on Saturday in the latest gain of a weeks-long offensive against the country’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib.
“Army units now exercise full control over the town of Saraqeb,” state television reported, over footage of the town's streets deserted after weeks of bombardment.
It said Syrian troops were combing the area for landmines and explosives left behind by the militants and allied rebels.
Saraqeb is the second key highway town to be recaptured by government forces in the past two weeks, after the rebels were pushed out of Maaret al-Numan last month.

Weeks of intensive air strikes and a bruising ground offensive have emptied entire towns in the Idlib region and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.
The violence has displaced 586,000 people since December, according to the United Nations, and killed more than 300 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Saraqeb is a strategic prize for the government it seeks to take back control of two major highways that meet in the town.
The M5 motorway connects the capital to second city Aleppo. Running up from the Jordanian border in the south, it is Syria's longest highway.
The Observatory said on Friday that government forces were in control of the whole extent of the M5 in Idlib province.
Only a 30 kilometre section in neighbouring Aleppo now remains in rebel hands.
Saraqeb sits at the crossroads with the M4, the main east-west highway in Idlib which linking Aleppo with the Mediterranean port city of Latakia, a government bastion.
After a string of advances since the intervention of Russia on its side in 2015, the government now controls more than 70 per cent of Syrian territory.
The conflict has killed more than 380,000 people since it broke out in 2011.


World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

Updated 21 min 28 sec ago

World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

  • Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region

WASHINGTON: The World Bank on Thursday said it had approved a re-allocation of $34 million in funds to support Lebanon’s vaccination efforts as it races to contain the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first such outlay of funds by the Bank.
Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region, with over 6,000 cases reported on Friday, adding to economic and political pressures caused by a financial collapse and a huge port blast in August.
Thursday’s re-allocation of funds from Lebanon’s existing Health Resilience Project, is the first World Bank-financed operation to fund the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
It will provide vaccines for over 2 million individuals, with doses set to arrive in Lebanon by early February, and earmarked for priority groups such as high-risk health workers, those over 65, epidemiological and surveillance staff, and people aged 55 to 64 with co-morbidities.
“Fair, broad, and fast access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to protecting lives and supporting economic recovery,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said in a statement.
The World Bank said the decision to free the funds followed efforts by Lebanese authorities to conduct a vaccine readiness assessment, establish a national vaccine committee, and prepare a draft National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) in line with World Health Organization recommendations.
The Bank is working closely with over 100 countries to pave the way for them to receive low-interest loans and funding to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines as part of a new $12 billion initiative approved in October.