Rebels Again Close Down Key Highway by Retaking Syrian Town
Syrian rebels backed by Turkey say they have repelled government troops who recaptured the town of Sarqeb, in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, earlier this month. In doing so, the rebels have again severed the key M5 highway between Damascus and Aleppo. A Syrian rights group said the takeover was made possible by a heavy Turkish artillery bombardment. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been sweeping through Idlib, with backing by Russian warplanes, as part of an offensive launched in December aimed at retaking one of the last rebel strongholds in a civil war that next month goes into its tenth year. Ankara has been seeking to stall the offensive – which is reported to have killed over 300 civilians and displaced close to a million more – in order to prevent further refugees from joining an estimated 3.6 million already in Turkey. The Syrian military drive has been blunted elsewhere in the province in recent days, with rebels saying they have taken back other towns. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he is willing to commit troops to direct attacks against Syrian forces unless they end their offensive, which has cut off observation posts set up by Turkey to monitor the situation.