Syria regime forces battle extremists for key town, highway

BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian pro-regime forces fought pitched battles yesterday with insurgents as they inched closer to an extremist-run town in the northwestern province of Idlib, a war monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “fierce clashes” between loyalist forces, extremists and allied rebels were taking place one kilometre west of Khan Sheikhun.

The latest fighting broke out overnight last Saturday to yesterday and has already killed 26 extremists and allied rebels and 11 members of the pro-regime forces, the war monitor said.

The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime.

The road runs through Idlib, connecting government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, which was retaken by loyalists from rebels in December 2016.

Pro-regime forces are deployed around three kilometres from the road and have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun from the north and the west and seize the highway.

Last Sunday they retook the village of Tel al-Nar and nearby farmland northwest of Khan Sheikhun “and were moving close to the highway,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

But their advance from the east was being slowed down due to “a ferocious resistance” from extremists and allied rebels.