Islamist militants advance on key regime outpost in Idlib

Published April 25th, 2015 - 06:07 GMT

Members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist fighters made advances on Friday in a joint offensive on the regime’s remaining bastion in the northwest province of Idlib, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

During the assault, which began Thursday, the Nusra Front and allied groups have taken three checkpoints surrounding the large town of Jisr al-Shughur, the activist group reported.

The town is of significant strategic value given its proximity to the Turkish border and its location on a key highway leading west to the regime’s stronghold of Latakia province. 

“There are very fierce clashes ongoing since the early morning, and intense aerial bombing. The regime has conducted 34 airstrikes in the area since Friday morning,” Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP.

He reported that the Nusra Front had launched a series of suicide attacks on the town’s outskirts and sent 15 fighters wearing suicide belts into Jisr al-Shughur itself.

Since the fighting began on Thursday, 30 regime troops and 43 rebels – including 13 Chechen fighters – have been killed, Abdel-Rahman said.

The Islamist coalition was also battling pro-Assad forces for three other checkpoints around the town, Abdel-Rahman added.

The Syrian regime made Jisr al-Shughur its de facto provincial capital last month after the same rebel coalition calling itself “The Army of Conquest” overran the city of Idlib.

The regime still controls areas to the east of Idlib, including the town of Ariha, a military base in Mastouma and an air base at Abu Dhuhur.

But seizing Jisr al-Shughur would prevent regime access to a major highway linking Idlib to Latakia – Assad’s home province – which lays farther west.

If opposition groups overrun it, it would enable them to launch additional attacks on Latakia, said Charles Lister, an American academic and expert on the Syrian civil war.

“This would be very dangerous for the regime,” he said.

Al Nusra and its allies already control much of Idlib province.

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