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Syria sweeps jihadists out of last remaining stronghold in Idlib

SYRIAN government forces claimed victory today as they swept jihadists out of the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in their last remaining stronghold of Idlib province.

Islamists controlled the town for five years before being driven out today as the Syrian Arab Army swept them aside in an operation backed by Russian forces.

The main jihadist group in Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, claimed to be redeploying its forces elsewhere, following a major bombardment.

But satellite images revealed a mass retreat of the remaining jihadist fighters as they appeared to be losing control of the town.

The advance started on Sunday as the Syrian Arab Army targeted al-Nusra positions in the countryside of Khan Sheikoun. 

Turkey mobilised tanks and troops to defend the town on Monday, its military convoy coming under attack from Syrian air strikes.

Ankara said three civilians were killed in the attack and claimed that its forces were heading for an outpost, agreed as part of a so-called “buffer-zone” negotiated with Russia.

But war monitors suggested the air strikes killed three jihadists in the region.

Idlib has been a major conflict zone in the Syrian war, which has raged for around eight years. 

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have regained control of large swathes of the country from jihadist terror groups.

As reported in the Star, Turkey has maintained links with former Isis and al-Qaida fighters, using them as a mercenary force, particularly in Afrin, northern Syria.

Ankara has operated as an “occupying force” in that part of the country, driving 300,000 mainly Kurdish citizens from their homes. 

It has renamed squares and streets with Turkish names, installed the Turkish language in schools and raised the Turkish flag in the province’s towns and villages.

A new proposed US-backed safety zone in Afrin has raised fears of the ethnic cleansing of Kurds.

Turkey plans to send back 700,000 Syrian refugees to the area, forcibly removing them from the streets of cities including Istanbul.

The Idlib buffer zone was introduced under the guise of creating a corridor to protect citizens. 

Turkey supports the jihadists; its military convoy was believed to be heading to the area to arm the various factions bidding to oust Mr Assad and install a caliphate.

It warned Syria against “playing with fire” after Monday’s air strike.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin said he supported the efforts of the Syrian government to defeat the Islamists.

“We support the Syrian army’s efforts for local operations to thwart the terrorist threats,” he said.

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