Syrian army responds to major rebel attack in Idlib

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The Syrian army forces on Thursday foiled a major offensive by militant groups on military positions in the northwestern province of Idlib, state news agency SANA reported, as the foreign ministry denied any targeting of hospitals during a wide-scale military campaign in that key rebel bastion.

The rebels' attacks on several military positions in the southern countryside of Idlib and the nearby northern countryside of Hama province in central Syria have failed, SANA said.

It added that the Syrian forces have fought intense battles against the militant groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), in both countrysides over the past few hours.

Earlier in the day, an array of rebel groups in northern Syria unleashed a major counter-offensive to foil a Syrian military campaign in Idlib, following a significant advance of the government forces in that key rebel bastion.

The counter-offensive was unleashed by two rebel operation parts: the first consisted of the Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Ezzah, the Turkistan Party, and Nour Addien al-Zinki, while the second is formed of Jaish al-Naser, the Free Idlib Army, the Elite Forces and the Second Army rebels, opposition activists reported.

The al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC) refused to join the two rebel operation parts, and decided to fight the Syrian army alone, according to the report.

The wide-scale counter-attack aims to foil the advance of the Syrian army and restore areas taken by the army in the northeastern countryside of Hama province in central Syria and the southeastern countryside of Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

Their major goal is to drive back the Syrian army from the strategic Abu al-Duhur air base in the southeastern countryside of Idlib, whose falling will deal a big blow to the rebels in Idlib as well as in the southern countryside of Aleppo province in northern Syria.

In their counter-offensive Thursday, the rebels captured the towns of Khwein, Atshan Abu Omar, and Um Khalakhel from the Syrian army.

Activists posted two videos on Thursday, the first purports to show a number of Syrian soldiers taken captives by the rebels when they stormed Khalakhel, while the second one showed a warplane crashing over Idlib countryside.

The activists said the warplane belonged to the Syrian army.

Activists said the Syrian government forces' offensive and advance in Idlib has united the rebel factions to confront it, which could undermine the armed insurgency in Syria as Idlib is the major gathering point and rebel bastion in Syria, following the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) late last year.

A day earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group said the Syrian army entered the southern part of Abu al-Duhur air base, adding that clashes were taking place inside the compound.

Now, an intense military showdown is taking place in the countryside of Idlib and Hama, a military source told Xinhua, adding that it is difficult for the rebels to capture over 120 towns taken by the army in both Hama and Idlib since the Syrian army unleashed their attack in both countrysides two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied claims by the French Foreign Ministry about the Syrian army's targeting of hospitals and civilians during the military campaign in Idlib.

In a statement, the ministry expressed astonishment over the "French Foreign Ministry's persistence in carrying out the misleading campaign of the French public opinion toward what is happening in Syria and using the humanitarian side as a pretext to do so."

The stance of the French Foreign Ministry has proven to be based on "ignorance" of what is happening in the countrysides of Hama and Idlib, the Syrian ministry said, adding that the Syrian army is fighting the LLC, which was previously known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

The ministry concluded by saying that France, whose people have suffered from the terrorism, should have its diplomats take clear stances regarding terrorism.

The Observatory said Thursday that 96 civilians have been killed since the military campaign on Idlib and Hama countrysides started on Dec.25. 

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