Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Syrian troops advance on rebel-held town after three killed in air strikes on Turkish army convoy

Syria’s north-west is the last major stronghold of the opposition to Bashar Al Assad

A Syrian government tank advances near the town of Khan Shaykhun in rebel-held Idlib province, Syria. AFP
A Syrian government tank advances near the town of Khan Shaykhun in rebel-held Idlib province, Syria. AFP

Syrian regime troops and their allies entered Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, north-west Syria, advancing against rebels in the town where battles raged on Monday night.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army seized the town’s northern and eastern districts.

A source from one of the rebel factions said pro-government forces entered only part of the town and fierce battles were being fought to fend them off.

The advance threatens to encircle insurgents in their only patch of territory in nearby Hama province and could put a Turkish observation post there at risk.

Earlier in the day a Turkish military convoy was hit by air strikes in Idlib province.

Turkey's defence ministry claimed that three civilians were killed and 12 others wounded in the attack, which they said breached Ankara's agreements and co-operation with Russia, the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Turkey said Russia had been told in advance about the convoy.

Ankara said the vehicles had been travelling to a Turkish observation post in north-west Syria, but the Syrian Foreign Ministry said they had been carrying munitions to help rebels in the province.

The “aggressive” Turkish move of sending in the convoy would not affect “the determination of the Syrian Arab Army to keep hunting the remnants of terrorists", a Syrian ministry source told state news agency Sana.

“Turkish vehicles loaded with munitions are heading towards Khan Sheikhoun to help the terrorists, which confirms once again the support provided by the Turkish regime to terrorist groups," the source said.

The convoy was hit near the frontline as it headed for Khan Sheikhoun, which the Syrian army advanced towards last week in a pincer movement.

Turkey has funnelled weapons to the rebels it backs in the north-westerly province to hold off major aerial and ground attacks by the regime and Russia, who seek to gain control of the area.

Mr Al Assad launched the assault in April, saying the rebels had broken a ceasefire.

The Observatory said the Turkish convoy was stuck on a highway after air strikes prevented it from continuing southwards. It said one fighter accompanying the convoy was killed.

Fighting has killed at least 500 civilians and uprooted hundreds of thousands, many of them stranded near the border with Turkey, the UN says.

Turkey, which hosts about 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot accept any more, fears the onslaught in Idlib could spark a new influx.

A series of truces brokered in talks between Moscow and Ankara has failed to end the fighting.

On Friday, France called for an immediate end to the fighting, and the French Foreign Ministry condemned air strikes on refugee camps.

Updated: August 20, 2019 03:14 AM

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