Syrian State Media: Turkey Helped Rebel Counterattack in Idlib

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Syria's state media say government forces and their allies are approaching a sprawling rebel-held air base in the northwestern province of Idlib from different directions.

Militant factions justified their withdrawal decision by saying that a mass encirclement of rebel fighters in southwest Aleppo due to Syrian Army advances in eastern Idlib was highly possible and this made it strategically unfeasible or militarily wasteful to defend the Al-Hass region.

The recent military escalation in western Syria has included an unprecedented attack by a squadron of drones on Russian military bases and has cast a shadow over Moscow's efforts to convene a Syria peace congress later this month.

Idlib province is nearly entirely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist outfit dominated by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate. The Syrian army, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began an offensive in late October in Hama province.

The activists said the warplane belonged to the Syrian army.

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

Idlib's few rebel groups and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have set aside their differences to fight President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

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

It falls within a network of de-escalation zones - endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran - in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Ankara is concerned that wider fighting in the province could bring tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing from the battlefields on its borders far beyond the numbers now fleeing. By the end of last week, they had advanced into Idlib, close to an insurgent-held military airport.

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