Syrian rebel forces retake Idlib's Saraqeb after heavy fighting

Syrian rebel forces retake Idlib's Saraqeb after heavy fighting
Syrian rebel forces retook the strategic town of Saraqeb, which lies on the M5 highway and was captured by the Assad regime three weeks ago. The regime launched a counterattack.
3 min read
27 February, 2020
Rebels launched an attack on regime forces in Saraqeb [Getty]

Syrian rebels on Thursday recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in Idlib province from the Syrian regime, after support from Turkish forces.

The town, which has been a stronghold of opposition to the Assad regime since 2011, lies on the junction of the M5 highway, linking Aleppo to Damascus, and the M4 highway, running between Latakia and Aleppo.

It was captured by the regime three weeks ago amid heavy fighting.

Hundreds of people have been killed and over 950,000 displaced as a result of the regime's current assault on Idlib province, which began last November.

Before the rebel capture of Saraqeb, the regime had managed to capture the entire length of the M5 highway, which is believed to be the key aim of its assault.

Read also: Few options to end catastrophe in Idlib

The regime has recently captured several important towns and cities in Idlib, such as Maarat Al-Numan and Kafranbel.

Opposition forces began their operation to retake Saraqeb on Wednesday evening. They advanced from the outskirts of the town to the centre amid heavy fighting with regime forces.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) rebel group published pictures on Twitter showing its fighters inside Saraqeb.

The regime's news agency SANA did not report the loss of the town, but mentioned "fierce clashes" between the regime army and "terrorist groups on the Saraqeb front".

Regime troops, supported by Russian aircraft, have launched an operation to take back Saraqeb, Al-Araby TV has reported.

An AFP correspondent accompanied the rebels into Saraqeb, where he found a ghost town replete with bombed-out buildings and deserted of its inhabitants.

The correspondent saw rebel fighters deployed around the town in large numbers, but they have come under attack from regime forces on the outskirts as well as from the air.

Late on Wednesday, two Turkish troops were killed by regime shelling in Idlib.

It took the total number of Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with regime forces this month to 19. Turkey said it hit regime targets in response.

Turkey and Russia have held talks in recent weeks but failed to reach an agreement regarding a de-escalation in Idlib. Talks were continued on Thursday.

An opposition military source told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that Russia wanted a deal that would allow the regime to keep the areas of Idlib province it has recently captured.

Turkey has insisted that the regime withdraw to the lines of the September 2018 Sochi agreement that Russia had agreed to and later violated.

Turkey maintains 12 observation posts in Idlib province under the 2018 deal but some have recently been surrounded and attacked by regime forces.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned that the regime attack on Idlib could potentially create the most serious humanitarian crisis since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

The Syrian conflict broke out following the brutal suppression of peaceful protests by the Assad regime. More than 500,000 people have been killed since 2011.

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