Rescue workers and others search for victims of air strikes on Maarat al-Numan, a city in the south of Syria’s Idlib Province, on July 22. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian Forces Advance Toward Rebel-held Town of Khan Sheikhoun

Syrian forces have reportedly captured two towns in the northwest Idlib Province, and are advancing toward the rebel stronghold of Khan Sheikhoun. The town has been in opposition hands since 2014, and a sarin gas attack there in 2017 killed dozens of people. That prompted US President Donald Trump to order a missile strike on the Syrian air base from where Washington claimed the attack was launched. Idlib is the last major bastion outside of the control of the Assad regime, which, in conjunction with Russia, initiated in April a controversial offensive to retake the province. The fighting has raised the specter of another massive humanitarian crisis, with some 3 million civilians stuck in the cross-hairs. Meanwhile, the Turkish government fears that the assault will force masses of people across the border into Turkey, which is already housing about 3.5 million Syrian refugees. In response, Ankara threatened to launch its own ground operation in the area to dislodge US-backed Kurdish YPG units, which Turkey views as an extension of the banned PKK. In the interim, the US and Turkey have reportedly reached an agreement to set up a “safe zone” along Syria’s northern border.

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