Syrian regime allows cornered IS to escape to Idlib
Cornered Islamic State group fighters were given an escape route out of their embattled enclave in Hama by the Syrian regime, allowing them lay siege to rebels in Idlib province, monitors have reported.
IS militants encircled in Hama province looked finished this week until the regime opened up a corridor to Idlib.
Opposition activists and rebel fighters believe this is part of a consistent strategy of the Syrian regime to allow surrounded IS fighters to escape and attack rebel groups for gain new territory.
"The regime started the operation against this pocket seven days (ago). Suddenly they were able to take 80 villages and towns after giving them a corridor," Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
A Hizballah commander fighting alongside the Syrian regime confirmed to the news agency that an IS convoy was allowed to leave the enclave.
"The pocket is finished. A crossing was opened till they exited, and then it was closed," he said.
Photos showed notorious Brigadier General Suheil al-Hassan of the regime's elite al-Nimr Forces inspecting the newly captured territories.
Opposition activist and founder of anti-IS monitoring group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said that the situation will be used to justify the regime's continued bombardment of Idlib province.
They were forced out of the province to the IS stronghold of Raqqa - which has since fallen to US-backed Kurdish-Arab forces - but not before they murdered dozens of Free Syrian Army prisoners.
"The Syrian regime opened a road to ISIS in the eastern countryside of Hama city to get to Khan Shaykhun in the southern countryside of Idlib which is controlled by the opposition to have an excuse, continue the bombing and kill more innocent civilians," Abdalaziz Alhamza tweeted.
IS have now gained a new pocket of territory on the edge of Idlib province.
Pro-regime media claimed around 1,000 IS fighters made their way to Idlib to join forces with a sleeper cell of former IS-linked Jund al-Aqsa militants, although this could not be confirmed.
Liwa al-Aqsa - an offshoot of Jund al-Aqsa - fought a war against rebel factions in Idlib last year.
The Syrian regime is likely aware of the deep hatred between rebel forces in Idlib province and IS.
Syrian regime forces and IS have repeatedly launched simultaneous assaults on rebel positions throughout the war, including during Damascus' latest offensive in Hama province late last year.
Rebel commander Hassan Haj Ali of the Free Idlib Army confirmed to Reuters that clashes were already underway between FSA units and the 200 IS fighters who entered the province.
"This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh [IS]. They have six armoured vehicles with them."