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Syrian rebels foil regime ground assault on Idlib Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Syrian rebels foil regime ground assault on Idlib

Thousands of Syrians have fled their homes in Idlib [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 May, 2019

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Syria's Idlib has come under a fierce assault from regime forces and Russia.

Syrian regime forces - backed by airstrikes - launched a ground assault on opposition Idlib province on Friday, the first attempted invasion by Damascus of the rebel enclave in seven months.

Rebel fighters repelled the regime offensive on the southern edge of Idlib, activists told AP, which follows a day of intense airstrikes on the northwestern Syrian province.

Regime forces attempted to advance on Idlib from the Qalaat al-Madiq area in Hama province following waves of airstrikes. 

Rebel forces, named the National Front for Liberation, said they repelled the regime force and destroyed two vehicles and killed soldiers, including with armed drones, according to pro-opposition media.

There has been a build-up of government troops in northern Hama for days, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying the attempted regime advance appeared designed to expand its control of strategic areas and protect the Russian air base in Latakia. 

Russia has warned rebels in Idlib and the surrounding areas against any attacks on its airbase.

Airstrikes have seen hospitals in Idlib hit with at least 12 civilians killed in the Russian and Syrian regime bombing of the northwestern province, which is home to around 3 million people.

"The attacks have been continuously escalating for four days," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head, Rami Abdul Rahman, told AFP.

At least four hospitals have been destroyed in suspected regime bombings, leading to further concerns about the humanitarian situation in Idlib, which has suffered aid cuts since hard-line Hayat Tahrir al-Sham captured the province earlier this year.

Since February, the regime and its ally Russia has stepped up its attacks on Idlib, which has been covered by a truce since an agreement between Moscow and rebel backer Turkey last September.

In recent days, attacks on the last opposition stronghold in Syria have included the use of crude but deadly barrel bombs for the first time in months.

Intense shelling and air raids have forced thousands to flee their homes, particularly around the demilitarised zone.

"Since February, over 138,500 women, children and men have been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idlib," said David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.

"Between 1 and 28 April, its estimated more than 32,500 individuals have moved to different communities in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama governorates," he told AFP.

Rebels have fired back with rockets and armed drones aimed at Russia's airbase in Latakia, where many of the air raids on Idlib are thought to have been launched from.

Russia said again on Friday that its main air base in Syria came under attack but that it was thwarted, without elaborating.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the recent escalation as the "fiercest" since September with at least 38 killed in the past four days.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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