Syrian army closes in on strategic al-Qaida stronghold in Idlib

Li Jiayao

DAMASCUS, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army is only a few kilometers from a strategic stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked militants in the northwestern province of Idlib, a military source told Xinhua on Friday.

As part of the ongoing military offensive against the Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), also known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, the Syrian army captured several areas in the southern countryside of Idlib since its offensive against the key rebel stronghold started in December.

The Syrian forces was a few kilometers away from Saraqeb on Friday, a day after they captured the Tal Sultan area near Saraqeb from the LLC and allied militant groups, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Once Saraqeb is captured, the Syrian army will be able to reach the international road linking the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo.

The road has been cut off since 2012, when the rebels captured areas in the countryside of Idlib, forcing the government to use another road between Damascus and Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the Syrian forces is close to breaking the two-year siege on the Shiite towns of Kafraya and Foa in the northern countryside of Idlib.

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

The area is now home to rebel groups of several different affiliations, some of which are supported by Turkey, while others, including the LLC, are designated as terrorist groups.

The LLC started to resurface after the near-defeat of the Islamic State group late last year.

The focus of the Syrian army seems to have shifted to the LLC, which controls key areas near Damascus and Idlib.


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