Syrian troops retake key northwestern town from rebel forces

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces and their allies retook a key northwestern town days after losing it to rebel forces yesterday, pro-government media and an opposition war monitor said.

The town’s recapture came after escalating and direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces that could signal a new stage in the war.

Turkey backs fighters in Syria’s Idlib province, where the last remaining rebel forces in the country are holed up, and has sent thousands of troops into the area.

The fighting sparked one of the war’s worst humanitarian crisis, with almost one million Syrian civilians fleeing toward the sealed Turkish border.

Syrian activists said Turkish drone strikes killed more than 90 Syrian government forces and allied fighters. Turkey lost 54 soldiers in February, including 33 killed last Thursday in a single airstrike.

Outraged, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country’s European borders were open last Saturday for thousands of migrants and refugees as he sought to pressure Europe to help Turkey handle the fallout from the war in Syria.

The new gains at Saraqeb on the ground bring the last segment of a highway that links the capital Damascus and the major northern city of Aleppo under government control. The highway reopened late last month before insurgents seized Saraqeb, which sits on the highway, last week.

Last Sunday, Turkish troops shot down two Syrian warplanes after the Syrian military downed a Turkish drone, a major escalation in the direct conflict between Syrian and Turkish forces.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Syrian troops and their allies regained control of Saraqeb after fighting with al-Qaeda-linked militants.

A Turkish military convoy moves in the east of Idlib, Syria. PHOTO: AP