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Syria opposition launch new offensive against regime in Idlib

Civil defence team look for survivors after an air strike took place in Idlib, Syria on 2 January 2018 [Muaz Yemen/Anadolu Agency]

Opposition groups in Syria’s north-western Idlib province launched a new counteroffensive against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces yesterday, with many observing the usage of Turkish military equipment by militant factions.

The largest opposition-held area, Idlib has been under attack for many months with Syrian and Iranian forces escalating airstrikes and ground assaults in the past three weeks, resulting in a string of villages being won by the regime.

However, opposition groups are reported to have made substantial gains in the south of the region since yesterday, allegedly making use of Turkish supplied weaponry, including armoured vehicles, mortars and rockets.

Director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Programme at the Middle East Institute, Charles Lister tweeted yesterday that major factions including Ahrar Al-Shaam, Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki and the Free Idlib Army were recipients of the weapons, but not the largest opposition conglomerate and former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam.

Some 16 villages have reportedly been recaptured so far, with regime forces facing “fierce resistance” at Abu Duhur military airport which they seized on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Read: At least 23 killed in explosion in Syria’s Idlib

Hours after the Turkish backed assault started, sources on the ground reported that the Russian Air Force had intervened on the side of the regime, carrying out heavy airstrikes on civilian and military targets in the area.

Russia’s support of Al-Assad has been largely responsible for the success of the regime in tackling opposition groups over the past two years.

Whilst Turkey has backed the opposition since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, more recently Ankara has restricted arms provision in favour of a Turkish presence in Idlib, in an effort to implement a de-escalation zone.

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to establish de-escalation zones across Syria during peace negotiations in an effort to stem the bloodshed; however this has not stopped months of attacks by forces allied to Al-Assad on the province’s borders, as well as in the neighbouring region of Hama.

Earlier this week, Turkey summoned the ambassadors of Russia and Iran to complain about the continued violations. In a phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasised the need to stop Syria’s attacks on its opposition in the north of the country if he wants peace negotiations to succeed.

Read: Syria opposition groups hold talks with Russia outside Ghouta

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