March 25, 2015
By Dan Wilkofsky and Ammar Hamou
The battle for Idlib city continued for the second day Wednesday as rebels seek to capture the largest remaining regime-controlled city in the eponymous province.
A coalition of armed opposition groups, operating under the name “The Victory Army,” have now taken “around 10 percent” of the city after seizing a series of checkpoints along Idlib's perimeter Tuesday and Wednesday, Abu al-Yazid, a spokesman for Ahrar a-Sham, one the participating battalions, told Syria Direct Wednesday.
The battle began Tuesday with an attack on checkpoints east of the city. Until now, rebels have taken a series of checkpoints east of Idlib, and the al-Qalaa and Ain Sheib checkpoints to the south, al-Yazid added.
Street battles are currently ongoing inside Idlib itself, a local citizen journalist named Abd Qintar was quoted by UK-based al-Araby al-Jadeed as saying.
Ahrar a-Sham fighters on the Idlib front. Photo courtesy of @dfooll7656.
The governor of Idlib province denied that the armed opposition had realized progress towards the city, saying that they were still two kilometers away in a press statement quoted by al-Araby al-Jadeed Wednesday. The number of rebel dead from the failed assault is “in the hundreds, if not thousands,” the governor said.
Regime reinforcements arrived to the front lines of Idlib Tuesday as “incredibly accurate” snipers with night-vision capabilities fanned out, reported pro-regime Fuwaa and Kafariya News.
Aside from a great symbolic victory, a rebel capture of Idlib city would mean the cutting off of regime supply lines towards the Shiite towns of Fuwaa and Kafariya, al-Yazid told Syria Direct.
The Victory Army, composed of fighters from Ahrar a-Sham, Feilaq a-Sham, Jabhat a-Nusra, Ajnad a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and Liwa al-Haq Taftanaz, released a statement on Monday announcing the beginning of the battle and requesting that the “good people” of Idlib remain in their houses during the coming assault.
The announcement also addressed Sunni soldiers in the regime army, promising “general amnesty for anyone who repents to God and throws down his weapon and stays at home (except those who hands are stained with blood).”
Rebels began pounding the city with mortars before announcing the battle proper, a resident citizen journalist who requested anonymity told Syria Direct Wednesday. “The bombing was random and unfocused, which led to injuries among civilians.”
After residents conveyed their complaints to the rebel brigades, “they changed their plan and the bombing became more accurate and focused.”
The regime undertook a series of airstrikes on areas across the Idlib countryside Tuesday night in response to the rebel assault on the city, reported pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl.
Opposition media is reporting the use of chlorine gas in some of the attacks.