Syria moving to hit Nusra in Idlib – Russian defence ministry
The Syrian armed forces are moving into eastern Idlib province together with local paramilitary groups in an operation designed to wipe out a large force of jihadists belonging to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front), Russian news website Sputnik quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.
“Syrian government troops and militia units have started to eliminate a grouping of the Jabhat Fatah al Sham terrorist organization, numbering more than 1,500 fighters and surrounded in the eastern part of Idlib province,” the ministry said in a statement. “The militants are armed with tanks, infantry combat vehicles, field artillery systems and mortars."
The Syrian army had taken 24 settlements from militant groups in the area over the last 24 hours, the ministry was quoted as saying.
One Russian Middle East expert, writing on pro-Kremlin news site Vzglyad, said that Turkey likely made a deal with Russia to allow regime forces into Idlib in return for unhindered passage into Afrin, according to Turkish secular daily Hürriyet.
“The focus of this bargaining (between Moscow and Ankara) was Afrin and Idlib … For a month, Assad’s army has been wanting to take Abu Duhur military airport with the support of Russia,” Anton Madrasov said. “Guerillas linked to Turkey opposed this attack at first and stopped Damascus taking over the strategic base.”
Assad forces regained control over Abu Duhur, which had been taken over by JFS forces in 2015, on Sunday, Sputnik said.