A Syrian rebel fighter trains in the countryside of opposition-held northern Idlib province, September 3, 2018. File photo: Omar Haj Kadour / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian army artillery struck areas of opposition-held Idlib on Saturday after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime held areas, according to state TV network SANA.
Regime shelling was focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier this week.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based conflict monitor, the regime shelled six areas inside and around Idlib.
Opposition held areas of the province are now completely under the control of the “Salvation Government” – the administrative arm of the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
The group boasts 25,000 fighters, SOHR reports.
The National Liberation Front (NLF) – an alliance of rebel groups backed by Turkey – has withdrawn to the Aleppo countryside and Afrin, leaving HTS in control of all border crossings.
Turkey and Russia brokered a buffer zone agreement between the regime and the armed opposition last autumn to prevent a government offensive, which the UN feared would lead to a bloodbath.
Now that Turkish-backed forces have withdrawn, it is unclear whether the ceasefire will hold.
Turkish troops and tanks held military exercises on the border with Idlib on Saturday, Reuters reports. Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria fear Ankara is preparing for an offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and may move its forces east.