Syria and its ally Russia have stepped up an offensive against the last big stronghold of Syrian rebels, mounting more air raids and deploying ground reinforcements including Iranian-backed militias, army defectors and residents said yesterday.
The Russian-led alliance is pushing into densely populated parts of Idlib province in the northwest where millions of people who fled fighting elsewhere in Syria have taken refuge.
The northwest offensive has prompted UN warnings of a new humanitarian crisis amid the gains by Damascus and its partner Moscow, which has helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide in the eight-year-old conflict since intervening in 2015.
Moving deeper into territory along the Turkish border, the advance took the town of Tamaneh after earlier capturing Khwain, Zarzoor and Tamanah farms, the defectors and residents said.
They were the first gains since the alliance, battling a coalition of jihadists and mainstream Turkey-backed rebels, seized a main rebel pocket in nearby Hama province last week.
The offensive has been reinforced by elite army units and Iranian-backed militias, the defectors and residents said.
“There are daily reinforcements coming from the Iranian militias, elite Republican Guards units and Fourth Armoured Division,” Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a commander in Jaish al Izza rebel group, told Reuters.
Russia’s defence ministry said Syrian government forces will unilaterally cease fire in the “de-escalation zone” in Idlib region this morning, TASS news agency said.