Government forces advance inside rebel-held Idlib province

AMMAN: Rebels with the Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham coalition are battling to recapture territory in southern Idlib province on Wednesday after regime forces advanced from the south the day before.  

Government forces seized the village of a-Ruwaydah in opposition stronghold Idlib province from Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) on Tuesday, an HTS source told Syria Direct. Tuesday’s operation follows the capture of several other nearby towns in Idlib over the last week—the first regime advances on the province since rebel groups took control in early 2015.

“The regime took the village of a-Ruwaydah Tuesday and fighting continues as [HTS] tries to reclaim control of the town,” said the HTS source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Syrian army and allied forces “clashed with Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists” and “advanced into the village of a-Ruwaydah...after killing and injuring a number of terrorists,” state media outlet SANA reported on Tuesday.

Government forces captured a handful of other villages along the Idlib-Hama frontline in recent days.

Destruction in Maar Shirin, Idlib on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Abd Qantar for Syria Direct.

The capture of a-Ruwaydah is part of a wider government offensive taking place on three primary fronts along the southern boundary of the largest expanse of rebel-held territory in the country, which spans all of Idlib province and portions of Aleppo and Hama provinces. Aleppo lies directly east of Idlib province, while Hama lies to the south.

HTS controls the majority of Idlib province, but other rebel factions—including Free Syrian Army affiliates—are also present and participating in efforts to push back the regime offensive.

The regime appears to be advancing toward the crossroads of Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces, a strategic area containing portions of the railway connecting Aleppo and Damascus as well as the the Abu a-Dhuhur military airbase.

New airstrikes

At least one warplane conducted two airstrikes on a residential area in the town of Maar Shirin, about 40 kilometers northwest of a-Ruwaydah, just after midnight on Wednesday, Muhammad Sheikho, a spokesman for the Idlib Civil Defense told Syria Direct on Wednesday.  

The airstrikes killed 18 civilians, among them 10 children, and injured more than 30, Sheiko said. More than 25 homes in the town were destroyed, he added.

Sheiko did not specify whether the warplane was Russian or Syrian.  

Aftermath of airstrikes on Maar Shirin, Idlib on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Abd Qantar for Syria Direct.

The Russian Ministry of Defense denied involvement in the strikes, according to a statement quoted by Russian state news channel TASS on Wednesday.

Battles between the regime and opposition groups in northern Hama and southern Idlib have pushed thousands of residents in the area to flee north to other parts of Idlib province in recent days, Wasl a-Diab, an official overseeing displacement camps in the Sinjar region of Idlib told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“An estimated 1,000 families, or nearly 6,000 people from the southern Idlib countryside have been displaced due to [recent] regime advances,” he said.

With reporting by Ahmad Aljabale.

This report is part of Syria Direct’s month-long coverage of northwestern Syria in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and reporters on the ground in Syria. Read our primer here.

Avery Edelman

Avery Edelman graduated from Tufts University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in Arabic and International Relations.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Mohammad Al-Masalma

Born in Daraa in 1995, Mohammad holds a degree in multimedia. He worked for a number of media organizations in Daraa before moving to Jordan in 2014. Mohammad uses his skills in photography and film production to document life in Jordan's refugee camps. He joined Syria Direct to convey the truth of the Syrian reality without dramatization or bias.