Beirut (AFP) – Syrian government forces surrounded a Turkish observation post in Idlib province Monday after overrunning nearby areas in a push to take the last opposition bastion, a war monitor said.
The Idlib region in northwest Syria has seen an uptick in violence in recent days as regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes have launched a fresh assault to capture one of the largest urban centres in the area.
On Monday, regime forces surrounded one of 12 Turkish observation posts in the region, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Regime forces have surrounded the Turkish observation post in Al-Surman after capturing several towns and villages, including Jarjanaz and Al-Surman” in the southeast of the province, said the head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman.
The posts were established as per a September 2018 deal between regime ally Moscow and Ankara, which backs the rebels, to avert an all-out regime onslaught against the opposition bastion.
The jihadist-dominated Idlib region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.
The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back the area and bombardment has continued despite a ceasefire announced in August.
Since Thursday, regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes have taken control of dozens of towns and villages near the strategic city of Maaret al-Numan.
– Dire humanitarian situation –
Despite last year’s deal, the Damascus regime, which controls 70 percent of Syria, launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000.
A Turkish observation point in the town of Morek was encircled by Syrian regime forces in August this year.
Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces who have battled Assad’s government and it has also launched multiple operations across Syria’s northern border against Kurdish forces.
The fresh advances in Idlib came as Russian warplanes continued to pummel the province’s south, fuelling an exodus of civilians, who fear further chaos.
According to the Observatory, more than 30,000 people had fled the flashpoint area in southern Idlib in recent days. More than 40 civilians were reportedly killed in the region in the past week.
Exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation, Russia and China last week vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border aid deliveries to four million Syrians, many of them in the Idlib region.
The move, slammed by the United States, raised fears that UN-funded assistance could stop entering opposition-held parts of Syria from January unless an alternative agreement is found.
Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.