Rebels withdraw from key Syrian town as pro-Assad troops advance

Insurgent groups have withdrawn from Khan Sheikhun in north-west Syria, clearing the way for pro-government forces to enter the town, in a milestone moment in the war for Idlib province, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.

The development came hours after Turkey deployed tanks and armoured cars deep into Syria, partly in response to days of advances by forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Khan Sheikhun has been a key target in a military campaign launched in late April. The campaign had stalled until recent days, despite relentless Russian-led airstrikes that had decimated communities in southern Idlib and led up to 500,000 people to flee their homes.

Insurgents, spearheaded by the al-Qaida-linked extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), have led the defence of the town. According to an HTS statement on Tuesday, the group made “a redeployment” with its fighters withdrawing to areas south of the town. From there, they would continue to defend the territory, it said.

Extremist groups have blended with other anti-Assad fighters throughout Idlib and dominate parts of the province. Their presence has been used as a pretext by Russia and Syria to recapture all of north-western Syria, where up to 3 million people have taken refuge.

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Idlib has become the last redoubt of those who rose up against the Syrian dictator during the Arab revolts of 2011. As Syria’s towns and cities have been pummelled and the regime – heavily backed by Iran and Russia – has clawed back early losses, displaced populations from all corners of the country have ended up in the north-west province.

Winning back Idlib has become a primary goal of the Syrian leader and Russia – also to a lesser extent, Iran, which has committed troops and proxies extensively elsewhere in the war.

Turkey has insisted that it would not let the province fall militarily. To do so would inevitably send tens of thousands of refugees towards its borders at a time when Turkish authorities have been rounding up and deporting Syrian citizens in Istanbul and cities closer to the border.

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through Maaret al-Numan in Idlib reportedly heading toward Khan Sheikhun.A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through Maaret al-Numan in Idlib reportedly heading toward Khan Sheikhun. Photograph: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

Khan Sheikhun has become a focal point of the fight for Idlib because of its position on a main highway linking Idlib city with Hama to the south. The town was home to about one million people, nearly 700,000 of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country, before the government offensive began in April. In recent days hundreds of civilians remained in the town.

In April 2017, a sarin attack struck the centre of the town, killing 92 and maiming more than 200 people. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a UN investigation blamed a Syrian regime jet for the strike. Donald Trump ordered the bombing of the base that the jet took off from in retaliation.

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Missiles fired at Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria amid massive militant offensive – MoD

Al-Nusra terrorists on Wednesday fired 17 missiles at Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria, all of which were either intercepted or fell short. The attack came as the Syrian Army faced a mass militant offensive in the Idlib province.

Nine missiles were intercepted by the Khmeimim’s air defense, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, while eight others hit the ground before reaching the base. The attack, carried out with the use of multiple rocket launcher systems, originated from a terrorist held area in the Idlib province.

 
Russia’s Khmeimim airbase shelled by DOZENS of rockets, attack repelled – MOD 
The attack came amid a large-scale offensive against the Syrian military launched by the Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham terrorist group (formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate).

More than 500 militants, seven tanks, four APCs and 30 trucks with mounted machine guns and two explosive-laden vehicles, driven by suicide bombers, took part in the assault, on Wednesday morning. They were backed by another 200 gunmen, and hardware, attacking the government forces from the other side.

The offensive failed as the Syrian military killed 150 terrorists and destroyed three tanks, as well as 24 trucks with mounted machine guns during the heavy fighting.

Khmeimim has frequently been the subject of attempted attacks by terrorist groups, which target the base with rockets and explosive-laden drones. None of the attacks have been successful, but the Russian military warned that the advanced technology possessed by the jihadists can be used against less-protected targets in Syria and abroad.

If the situation in Syria wasn’t tense enough, the US has again accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the terrorist-held areas in Idlib, though admitting that it has little proof to back those claims.

Also on rt.com US 'sees signs' Damascus 'may' have used chlorine in Idlib, threatens ‘quick & appropriate’ response...

But the State Department still threatened Damascus on Tuesday that “the US and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately” if their suspicions are confirmed.

The Russian military, meanwhile, warned that Tahrir ash-Sham has set up a special “chemical unit” with the aim of staging a chemical attack in Idlib and to blame the Syrian government of the crime.

This tactic has already been employed by the jihadists on several occasions during the conflict, despite Damascus’s chemical weapons stockpiles being destroyed in 2014 under international supervision.

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Russian forces in Syria shoot down terrorists’ drones after attack on Hmeymim airbase

Russia’s air defense forces shot down two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during a terrorist attack on the Hmeymim airbase in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The drones approached the airbase from the northern and the northeastern directions, according to the military.

The Russian airbase’s air defense forces destroyed all of the drones “at a considerable distance from the airbase,” the statement said.

The military said six missiles were fired at the Hmeymim air base in the Latakia province and accused former Nusra Front militants of being behind the assault, RIA Novosti reported.

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Syria in Last 24 Hours: Army Preparing for Major Battle in Idlib

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Damascus Army dispatched fresh military convoys to Northern Hama to further reinvigorate its forces for massive operations against the terrorists in Idlib province amid militants' continued attacks from the demilitarized zone in Northern Syria.

"The Syrian Army has dispatched new convoys to Southern Idlib and Northern Hama to be prepared for imminent military operations in Northern Syria," the Arabic-language website of Sputnik reported.

Meantime, the Syrian army continued its military advances in other parts of Syria over past 24 hours.

Tens of terrorists were killed and dozens more were injured during the Syrian army's operations in provinces across Syria.

Hama-Idlib

The Syrian army sent new military convoys to Northern Hama to further reinvigorate its forces for massive operations against the terrorists in Idlib province amid the militants' continued attacks from the demilitarized zone in Northern Syria.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik reported on Wednesday that the Syrian army has dispatched fresh convoys to Southern Idlib and Northern Hama to be prepared for imminent military operations in Northern Syria.

It added that extensive military equipment has been sent to the Northern fronts of Hama to Sahl al-Qab region in Northwestern Hama.

Meantime, a military source said that the terrorists launch repeated attacks from the demilitarized zone on safe zones and military positions, adding that cleansing operations in the region should be prioritized.

Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) terrorists targeted the town of Salhab and Mahradeh in Northern Hama by heavy rocket attacks which were responded by the artillery and airstrikes of the Syrian army against their positions and movements in the towns of al-Latamineh, Kafr Zita, Kafr Naboudeh, Rasm al-Ahmar, al-Hawijeh, Qalat al-Maziq, al-Sakhar and al-Sahriyeh in Northern and Northwestern Hama.

The attacks destroyed several hideouts, vehicles and military equipment of the terrorists and killed and wounded a large number of them.

Aleppo

Reports from local media said nearly two dozen Turkish soldiers have been killed and wounded in heavy clashes with the Kurds in Northwestern Aleppo.

The Kurdish-language Hawar news reported on Thursday that the so-called 'Afrin Liberation Forces' targeted two armored vehicles of the Turkish army in the village of Qatmeh in Shara region in Afrin on April 30, killing 7 Turkish soldiers, wounding 5 others and destroying their vehicles.

It added that another group of Turkish soldiers were trapped and engaged in clashes with the Kurds in regions near Qatmeh, noting that 6 Turkish military men were wounded.

Also, 2 Turkish military commanders were killed and 3 others were severely wounded in operations launched by 'Afrin Liberation Forces' against a Turkish army vehicle on the road linking Shara region to the town of A'azaz in Northwestern Aleppo.

Reports from Afrin and A'azaz regions in Northern Aleppo said that heavy clashes had erupted between the Kurdish fighters and the Turkish army and its affiliated militants in the past two days, adding that the Turkish army has pounded the Kurdish positions in Northern Aleppo with artillery fire.

Eastern Euphrates

Over 900 trucks carrying new US military and logistical aid have been sent to the regions occupied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Eastern Syria after Washington's declaration of the ISIL collapse, media reports said.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Thursday that the US coalition has only in a recent case sent nearly 65 trucks loaded with weapons and military equipment from Iraq to the SDF-occupied areas in Eastern Euphrates.

It added that a least 945 trucks carrying military equipment have entered Eastern Syria after the US and Washington-backed SDF declared the end of ISIL rule over the region.

Damascus-Quneitra

The Syrian army found a large cache of weapons, including US and Israeli missiles as well as West-made arms, during cleanup operations in areas formerly held by the terrorists in Southern Syria.

The engineering units of the Syrian army discovered underground weapons caches during purging operations in the towns and villages of Southern Syria.

A military source said that they found several US TOW missiles, Israeli LAV missiles, shoulder-launched missiles, US-made M-16 guns, West-made sniper guns, machine-guns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, artilleries, mortars, TNT and advanced goggles.

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Islamic State Group Begin to Surrender Last Territory in Syria

Thousands of people, including armed Islamic State Group members, have surrendered to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in eastern Syria.

In a report from Al Jazeera, thousands of people, including armed fighters, have left the last area held by ISIL in Syria, a spokesperson for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

RELATED: Islamic State Group Faces Final Defeat by Kurdish-Led Force

Mostafa Bali of the SDF tweeted that about 3,000 people had come out of the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Monday through a humanitarian corridor established by the Kurdish-led group for those who choose to leave or surrender.

Bali said among those who left was a large number of fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group who "surrendered to our forces."

According to a report from Reuters, "around 200 Islamic State members surrendered in Baghouz after a ferocious battle at the weekend, but around 1,000 may still be holding out, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling them said on Monday."

This came after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched air strikes against the Islamic State Group in central Syria, the pro-Damascus al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to TeleSUR, the Islamic State Group have been using "guerilla-warfare tactics" for four years, while the U.S.-led coalition (SDF) described them as the "most-hardened militants."

AlJazeera reported that suspected fighters were moved to detention facilities for where they will be investigated.

Slowing down the offensive in yesterday, we managed to evacuate about 3.000 ppl from ISIS pocket through the corridor we opened. A large number of Daesh jihadists surrendered to our forces among the same group overnight.

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US: 200 'Peacekeeping' Troops to Remain in Syria

A Trump official noted that the duties of the remaining troops include providing logistics, intelligence, surveillance, and necessary information for directing airstrikes, which falls outside the peacekeeping mission.

The White House announced Thursday its plan to keep a small peacekeeping unit of troops in Syria. The statement retracts U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement in December, in which he declared victory over the Islamic State and said that he would withdraw all 2,000 forces from the country after four years of deployment.

RELATED: Leaders of Russia, Turkey, Iran Meet to Discuss Syria's Future

The announcement was made after a phone call between the U.S. president and president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which the leaders agreed to maintain efforts to create a "safe zone" near the Turkish border. This action marks the second time Trump has come to a major decision regarding Syria after conversing with the Turkish president. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in an address to the press, said the "small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time." Sanders, however, did not clarify where or how long the troops will remain in the region, or if they would be under the United Nations (UN) authority. 

The UN typically oversees peacekeeping missions in conflict zones.

A Trump official noted that the duties of the remaining troops include providing logistics, intelligence, surveillance, and necessary information for directing airstrikes, which falls outside the peacekeeping mission. Peacekeeping tasks mainly reference maintaining cooperative relations between Turkey and Kurdish-led Surian Democratic Forces, who are the United States' primary ally in the fight against the Islamic State. 

An associate professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies and former Pentagon official, David Des Roches, charges that other motives, for the announcement, are afoot. "It's not a large number of forces. It's too small to be militarily significant. So it has to be political."

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Trump's announcement to withdraw troops in December garnered both internal and external criticism.

Former defense secretary Jim Mattis, and special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned in protest. Additionally, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham raised concern of the potential threat of Iran or Russia filling the vacuum that would be created due to the absence of U.S. troops.

European allies also threatened to leave the region if U.S. troops were pulled.  The new announcement encourages France and Britain to keep troops in Syria.

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Explosion rocks area near Russian Embassy in Damascus

A blast has occurred in the Syrian capital of Damascus close to the Russian Embassy, the diplomatic mission has confirmed. The explosion has inflicted only material damage, according to SANA news agency.

A car bomb detonated in the area, according to state TV. Other media outlets, however, suggest that the attack might have been carried out by a suicide bomber. The explosion has apparently caused only material damage, no casualties have been reported so far.

Several government buildings, as well as the Embassy of Russia, are located in the vicinity of the area, where the blast occurred.

The explosion occurred some 500 meters away from the Embassy, Russian mission confirmed, adding that its staff was not affected by the blast.

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A number of photos, purportedly showing the scene of the blast, have emerged online. The explosive device was apparently planted in an old blue car, which was badly damaged in the explosion.

 

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Casualties as blast in Manbij, Syria reportedly occurs near US-led coalition patrol

A powerful blast has hit the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which was recently threatened by Turkey over its Kurdish control. Several people were killed, with local sources claiming Kurdish-allied US soldiers were among the dead.

The blast happened near a restaurant and market. Preliminary reports say at least six people were killed and 19 others injured by the explosion. Various sources on the ground claim that between two and five US soldiers are among the casualties, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Footage from Manbij obtained by RT’s video agency Ruptly shows emergency vehicles and several US troops, presumably responding to the blast.

Ruptly’s contributor on the ground said the US military ramped up security inside the city following the attack and put the city hospital, where victims have been transported, on lockdown.

Photos and videos taken at the scene show a damaged building with broken windows and what appear to be blood stains on a column and several damaged cars.

@Rojava_News_

Update: Blackhawks are landing next to targeted site in
US Service men were injured. An US patrol was near the targeted restaurant - according to locals some were enjoying a meal inside the restaurant

The US-led coalition stated it was “aware of open-source reports” on the blast, and said that it had conducted a routine Syrian patrol, but stopped short of confirming any casualties in the explosion.

Four US soldiers were killed and three were injured, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed American official.

Al Jazeera sources earlier said the death toll includes two US soldiers, one Kurdish fighter, and six civilians. Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak said five Americans were killed by the explosion. Another unconfirmed report said the target was a restaurant where US, French and Kurdish troops were meeting to discuss security arrangements for the city.

Meanwhile, a helicopter apparently sent to the area by the US military was filmed by bystanders.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) mouthpiece Al-Amaq said the terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Manbij is a strategically located city, which is at the center of a tense confrontation between the Kurds and Turkey, which considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. Ankara has threatened to launch a military operation to kick them out of the city.

The US, which supported Kurdish militias with arms and training while they were focusing on fighting jihadist forces, is now in the process of withdrawing its troops from Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria. The promised pullout would take time, however, and in practice US soldiers continue missions on the ground.

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