Syrian rebels have launched a counter-attack against government forces and their Iranian-backed allies in Idlib province. The fighting, which is raging right along the Turkish border is a source of rising tension for Turkey’s government.
Fighting raged in Idlib, where a government offensive helped by Iran-backed militia has gathered pace in the last two weeks, according to rebels and a military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is fighting on the Syrian government side.
Idlib province is the biggest chunk of Syria still held by rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, with a population swollen by Syrians who have fled government advances in other parts of the country. Assad has defeated rebels in many parts of western Syria with critical help from Russia and Iran.
The recent military escalation in western Syria has included an unprecedented attack by a squadron of drones on Russian military bases and has cast a shadow over Moscow’s efforts to convene a Syria peace congress later this month.
The Hezbollah media unit said the army and its allies were repelling a “fierce assault” by the Nusra Front, formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Syrian war, and factions linked to it.
Rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said in a statement they had set up a joint operations room to repel the offensive and take back areas seized by the government in northeastern Hama and southern Idlib.
The latest push by the army and its allies has the Turks irate since they have accused both Iran and Russia in going back on a de-escalation zone in Idlib.
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