Syrian regime forces battle to retake Idlib

Syrian regime forces battle to retake Idlib
3 min read
31 March, 2015
Syrian regime forces carry out airstrikes on rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib, killing more than a dozen people, as thousands of panic-stricken civilians flee the city.
Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate seized control of Idlib two days ago [AFP/Getty]
Syrian government forces fired surface-to-surface missiles and conducted airstrikes on the northwestern city of Idlib days after it was seized by militants, killing more than a dozen people, activists said Tuesday.

State media said "tens" of fighters were killed in a "military operation" in Idlib, and a pro-government newspaper said the army is preparing to retake the city, adding that government forces will "soon" broadcast a statement announcing its re-capture.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said Monday night strikes on Idlib killed at least 14 people.

Fighters led by al-Qaida's branch in Syria and the ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham group seized control of Idlib on Saturday after four days of intense shelling and fighting.

     Residents are fleeing the city to nearby villages and towns
Its capture was a major blow to President Bashar Assad's government, which has retained control of almost all the country's major urban areas through four years of unrest.

Idlib, with a population of around 165,000 people, is the second provincial capital to fall to the opposition after Raqqa, which is now a stronghold of the Islamic State group.

The city is strategically valuable because of its position at the intersection of two vital transport corridors. It sits 10km from where the M5, the main highway from the capital Damascus to the key northern city of Aleppo, meets the M4, which branches off towards the regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia.

Now that the city is in the hands of rebels, who stormed government buildings and tore down posters of Assad, many residents fear that troops will retaliate harshly.

Thousands of Syrian civilians have now fled Idlib in fear of government reprisals.

Muayad Zurayk, an activist based in Idlib province, said via Skype that "residents are fleeing the city to nearby villages and towns."

Yacoub El Hillo, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, said he was "gravely concerned by the ongoing fighting" in Idlib, which he said has displaced some 30,000 people.

He said the situation in the city is becoming increasingly dire, with electricity shortages and the closure of schools and hospitals.

On Monday, an opposition outlet published a video saying it was the aftermath of a regime airstrike in Idlib.

Free Syrian Army sources had told al-Araby al-Jadeed the same day that regime forces in Hama airbase were preparing a massive aerial campaign against the city, using weapons including scud missiles and chlorine gas.

"Regime forces are preparing to destroy Idlib," said an FSA source who asked not to be named. "The FSA's intelligence services have received information that senior people have been given orders to prepare scud missiles to target Idlib in order to destroy the city."

A Syrian military source accused both Turkey and Jordan of supporting the insurgents in their Idlib offensive.

Reuters news agency reported the source saying the two countries were "leading operations and planning them" adding that "the insurgents were using advanced communication apparatus that had been supplied to them via Turkey."