Regime regains ground in Idlib counterattack

Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces stand on a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Idlib

Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces stand on a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Idlib

France said on Wednesday it was "extremely concerned" by a Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib and demanded that commitments made at an worldwide deal in Astana to reduce hostilities be respected.

The fighting has seen 99,569 civilians flee southern Idlib as well as north and northeastern parts of neighboring Hama province between December 1 and Tuesday, said the U.N.'s humanitarian coordination office, UNOCHA.

The recent military escalation in western Syria has included an unprecedented attack by a squadron of drones on Russian military bases and has cast a shadow over Moscow's efforts to convene a Syria peace congress later this month.

"The operation is to hit the belly of the regime deep into liberated territories and to encircle their advancing forces", said Abdul Hakim al Rahamon, a senior official in Jaish al Nasr, an FSA faction taking part.

Idlib province is nearly entirely held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist outfit dominated by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate.

Militant forces linked to the Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda are reinforcing their positions opposite Syrian Arab Army lines in southwest Aleppo province after initially disengaging from the region several days ago, Al-Masdar News says.

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Erdogan spoke to Putin on the phone, they said.

Rebels launched a counter attack on Thursday. The source said fierce battles were however underway in the area and army advances were continuing.

The three countries had agreed previous year to establish a "de-escalation zone" in the opposition-held Idlib province and surrounding region, which borders Turkey.

It added that the rebels had used Turkish vehicles.

The government offensive has displaced tens of thousands of people who fled toward areas close to the Turkish border.

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