Militants kill eight Syria troops near truce zone
Militants have killed at least eight Syrian government troops near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major rebel bastion, a monitor said yesterday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack took place late on Friday in the north of Hama province near the planned buffer zone around rebel-held territory in neighbouring Idlib.
The attack was led by fighters of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al Qaeda branch which is the dominant force in Idlib, the Britainbased monitoring group said.
“An assault by HTS targeted a Syrian regime position on the outskirts of the demilitarised zone” and was followed by clashes in which eight regime forces were killed, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. Two militants also died. The demilitarised zone was announced by rebel backer Ankara and Damascus ally Moscow in September to separate government troops from rebel fighters in Idlib and adjacent areas.
Under the deal, the rebels were supposed to have removed all heavy weapons from the buffer zone by October 10 but skirmishes have continued to pit regime forces against militants and other insurgents on the ground.
Rebel factions have said they withdrew their heavy weapons from the zone but HTS and other hardline groups have refused to pull out their fighters.
The deadly militant assault came hours after government troops killed 23 fighters of a formerly US-backed rebel group inside the planned buffer zone.
Idlib and some adjacent areas are the last major rebel bastion in Syria, where the Russianbacked government has in recent months retaken much of the territory it had lost since the civil war erupted.
It had threatened an assault on rebel territory around Idlib, which is home to some 3mn people, but the truce deal struck by Russia and Turkey averted it.
Aid organisations had warned that a fully-fledged offensive on Idlib could spark the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the civil war so far.
More than 360,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the conflict erupted with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government has protested to the United Nations about an air strike by the US-led coalition against Islamic State which it said killed 26 civilians in Hajin in the eastern Deir al-Zor region, state media reported.
Asked about reports of air strikes in that area on Friday, the coalition’s spokesman said it had “successfully struck and destroyed an ISIS (Islamic State) observation post and staging area in Hajin, void of civilians at the time”. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 41 people, including 17 children, had been killed in two waves of coalition air strikes on Friday in Hajin and the nearby village of Al-Shafa on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
It said the casualties were mostly Iraqi and family members of Islamic State fighters.
The coalition is supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in an attempt to defeat Islamic State in the area it controls near the border