Mil­i­tants in con­trol of last strong­hold

North Bay Nugget - - WORLD NEWS -

Beirut — an al-qaida-linked coali­tion in Syria ce­mented its hold on the last ma­jor rebel strong­hold in the coun­try after turkey-backed op­po­si­tion groups ac­cepted a sur­ren­der deal that ef­fec­tively gives to the ex­trem­ists con­trol of the en­tire re­gion in north­west­ern Syria, op­po­si­tion ac­tivists and a war mon­i­tor said thurs­day.

hayat tahrir al-sham, ara­bic for Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee, or hts, took over con­trol of idlib prov­ince and the sur­round­ing coun­try­side after forc­ing ri­val in­sur­gents to ac­cept a deal for a civil ad­min­is­tra­tion run by hts in their ar­eas.

the de­vel­op­ments threaten to de­rail a cease­fire in the area reached in Sep­tem­ber be­tween turkey and rus­sia that averted a po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic Syr­ian army as­sault on idlib.

the deal fol­lows days of fierce fight­ing dur­ing which the hts seized more than two dozen vil­lages from the turkey-backed na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front.

idlib prov­ince is the last ma­jor rebel strong­hold in civil war-torn Syria out­side of gov­ern­ment con­trol, with the ex­cep­tion of north­east­ern Syria, which is con­trolled by u.s.-backed Kur­dish groups. Con­trol of the prov­ince has so far been di­vided be­tween hts, which is spear­headed by al- Qaida’s af­fil­i­ate in Syria for­merly known as the nusra Front, and rebels backed by turkey.

the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly threat­ened to launch an of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture idlib prov­ince, which is packed with 3 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing many who were dis­placed from other parts of the coun­try.

the deal reached in Sep­tem­ber be­tween turkey and rus­sia, a key ally of Pres­i­dent Bashir al-as­sad, averted a po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic bat­tle for idlib that would have likely trig­gered a new wave of blood­shed and refugees. the deal re­quired ji­hadist groups to leave a front­line buf­fer zone.

the lat­est ad­vances by the hts, which in­clude many for­eign fighters, raises ques­tions over the fu­ture of the deal.

“hts’ gov­er­nance will re­sult in in­creased hu­man rights abuses and fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion, and this sit­u­a­tion will be used as an ex­cuse by the as­sad regime and rus­sia to launch an of­fen­sive to re­take idlib,” says Ke­nan rah­mani, ad­vo­cacy man­ager at the Syria Cam­paign.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Szi­lard kosztic­sak/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban ad­dresses the me­dia dur­ing an in­ter­na­tional press con­fer­ence in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary, on Thurs­day. Or­ban wants “anti-im­mi­gra­tion forces” to be­come the ma­jor­ity in all of the Euro­pean Union’s in­sti­tu­tions.

Muham­mad Haj kadour/getty im­ages

Ve­hi­cles and peo­ple are seen mov­ing along a busy street in the north­ern city of Idlib, in Syria’s Idlib prov­ince. A ji­hadist group dom­i­nated by Syria’s alqaida af­fil­i­ate sealed its grip on north­ern Idlib, the last ma­jor rebel bas­tion.

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