Syria Qaeda offshoot kills 19 in deadly offensive

Syria Qaeda offshoot kills 19 in deadly offensive

An extremist group active in northwest Syria launched an offensive Monday, capturing two villages and killing 19 regime forces, a war monitor said.

“Factions led by Hurras al-Deen launched an assault on two villages in Sahl al-Ghab,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

They seized the villages of Al-Fatatra and Al-Manara, in Hama province, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

He said the clashes left 19 government soldiers and six extremists dead.

This picture taken on June 4, 2020 shows smoke plumes rising following shelling by pro-Syrian government forces in the town of Banin, north of Maaret al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. (File photo: AFP)This picture taken on June 4, 2020 shows smoke plumes rising following shelling by pro-Syrian government forces in the town of Banin, north of Maaret al-Numan in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. (File photo: AFP)

The area from which the offensive was launched lies in the broad Idlib region, which is controlled by extremist and opposition forces and is the last bastion of resistance to Damascus.

A truce reached on March 6 has largely stemmed the fighting in the region, which President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to fully retake.

Hurras al-Deen is a relatively small but powerful armed group led by Al-Qaeda loyalists, the closest thing to the mother organization’s franchise in Syria.

Although they cooperate at times, it is a rival of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of factions dominated by former members of Al-Qaeda’s ex-Syria affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Idlib truce brokered by regime ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey has largely kept Syrian and Russian warplanes out of the region’s skies.

Aid groups had warned that an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Idlib region could cause a humanitarian disaster of previously unseen proportions if the fighting did not cease.

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