Syrian army captures key al-Qaida stronghold in Idlib Province

Huang Panyue

DAMASCUS, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army captured on Sunday a key stronghold of al-Qaida-linked militants in the country's northwestern province of Idlib, as part of a major military offensive to capture a strategic air base in that province, a military source told Xinhua.

The town of Sinjar fell to the army after the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), otherwise known as the Nusra Front, was defeated in nearby towns and villages in the southern countryside of Idlib, a major stronghold of the LLC and like-minded militant groups.

Also, the towns of Mutawasita, Khiara, and Kafrya al-Ma'ara have fallen to the army west of Sinjar, the military source said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, activist groups said the LLC militants withdrew from the town after all of the surrounding areas had fallen.

Sinjar is the latest major stronghold to fall in the southern countryside of Idlib since the army unleashed an operation in that part of the country over two months ago.

The town will be a key launching pad for further military operation in Idlib, and it's only 14 km from the key Abu al-Duhur Air Base, whose recapture is a major goal behind the military operations in Idlib and it would enable the Syrian army to regain the upper hand in carrying out airstrikes in Idlib.

Idlib has emerged as the main destination of the rebel groups, which have evacuated several positions across Syria after surrendering to the Syrian army.

The area has become a home to several rebel groups from different affiliations, some of which are supported by Turkey, while others, such as the Nusra Front, are designated as terrorist groups.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group said recently that over 70 towns and villages in southern Idlib have fallen back to the Syrian army forces during the current operation in Idlib.


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