Syrian government forces have captured a crucial town in the rebel held Idlib province. On February 6, Thursday, Syrian forces entered Saraqeb and nearby villages and towns and took control over the crucial Saraqeb-Aleepo highway, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency. Saraqeb is just 15 km away from the Idlib city and is also the main point linking capital Damascus to the north of the country.
Idlib is controlled by former al-Qaida affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) forces. Syria started an offensive to liberate the region in December last year. Turkey, which supports HTS forces, claims that the offensive may lead to fresh migration of Syrian refugees into the country. It also calls the offensive a violation of the ceasefire agreement signed between Turkey and Russia.
The ceasefire deal between Russia and Turkey was signed on January 12 as an extension of their cooperation following the Turkish invasion in North East Syria last year. This cooperation is supposedly part of a regional strategy to create counter-hegemonic presence against the US. However, Russian and the Syrian forces have claimed that Turkey and the rebel forces under its protection have been violating the ceasefire and attacking Syrian forces, highlighting certain inherent contradictions between Turkey and Russia.
On February 3, eight Turkish soldiers who were guarding the front between the HTS and the Syrian forces were killed in an attack by the latter. Turkey immediately retaliated, killing almost 30 Syrian soldiers.
Syria has claimed that 15 civilians were killed by a Turkish airstrike in Idlib on Thursday. It also claims that Israel fired two rounds of missiles targeting regions near Damascus and the southern regions of Derra and Quneitra on Thursday. According to reports, some of the missiles were intercepted by the Syrian forces.
The Syrian government backed by Russian forces wants to take back control over the Idlib region as it is key to end the nine-year-long war in the country. The war has so far killed hundreds of thousands of people and has caused the displacement of almost seven million Syrians, the majority of whom are forced to live in inhuman conditions in the neighboring Turkey and other countries.