Tag Archives: Assad

Syria's Assad: OPCW faked a report on attack near Damascus

Syria's Assad: OPCW faked a report on attack near DamascusAssad’s comments to Italy’s Rai News 24 came after the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed confidence in the report into the deadly attack in Syria. OPCW’s chief Fernando Arias supported the report issued in March by a fact-finding mission from the watchdog that found “reasonable grounds” that chlorine was used in a deadly attack on the eastern Damascus suburb of Douma.



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My Hospital Was Bombed by Putin and Assad. Why Won’t America Hear Our Cries?

My Hospital Was Bombed by Putin and Assad. Why Won’t America Hear Our Cries?National GeographicOn Oct. 13, The New York Times published a story that proved that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian allies deliberately bombed four hospitals in opposition-held Idlib province in May. Indiscriminate or intentional targeting of hospitals and medical facilities is a war crime, and both culprits have always denied the charges. In reality, Assad has targeted hospitals and other civilian structures from the start of the war, and Russia has done the same since it entered the war in 2015. The Times investigation is important because it is apparently the first to present substantive proof of this specific war crime. The newspaper’s conclusions are based on comprehensive evidence from many sources, including thousands of Russian Air Force radio recordings of pilots and ground control officers. There are videos documenting the bombing of three of the four hospitals, and recordings of the Russian pilots confirming their strikes. There are testimonies of witnesses and survivors, and flight logs from the spotters who keep watch on the sky in order to warn civilians of impending attacks.I know what it’s like to experience such an attack, having lived through many of them during the six years I worked as a pediatrician at the Cave, an underground hospital in East Al Ghouta. On September 28, 2015, Russian warplanes bombed the Cave, killing three male nurses and injuring two female nurses, including my friend Samaher. Samaher suffered terrible memory loss for about a year, but she continued working at the hospital despite the trauma she carried with her. When I became manager of the Cave in 2016, I did everything I could to shore up the infrastructure above and below ground so it could withstand bombings. I worked on evacuation plans to ensure the safety of patients and staff. We all knew another attack could come at any time. And the attacks multiplied in frequency and brutality as Assad and Russia closed in on Al Ghouta. During our final month in the Cave, we were hit five or six times by barrel bombs. It can’t be said often enough: Assad and Russia are malign actors that cannot be trusted. When they agreed to help the Kurdish-led SDF in northeastern Syria, it wasn’t about protecting a vulnerable ethnic group. It was about positioning themselves in a regional conflict that has international ramifications that go beyond the Kurdish issue. The Syrian and Russian governments didn’t protect the Kurds in the past, and they won’t protect them once the current fight is over. Assad has never been a friend to Syria’s Kurds, who are the country’s largest ethnic minority. All Syrians—Arabs, Christians, Kurds—have suffered under Assad’s regime. I have many Kurdish friends who took part in the 2011 demonstrations in Al Ghouta, one of the first and most important areas to speak out for freedom and democracy. We were all trapped there when the government laid siege to the area in 2013. When Russian troops marched into Al Ghouta in 2018, we were displaced.  The list of Assad’s war crimes is long. With the help of his allies Russia and Iran, he has committed these atrocities out in the open while the world looked on. Half of Syria’s population has been displaced. In the five-year siege of Al Ghouta, civilians were deliberately starved, deprived of medicine, and repeatedly bombed. Then there are the multiple chemical attacks on opposition territories. I was in East Al Ghouta in August 2013 when rockets loaded with sarin gas were dropped while people slept. I never imagined that one day the government would use chemical weapons to kill civilians. When that happened, I realized they wanted to kill everybody in Al Ghouta—and anyone in Syria who wanted freedom. All told, close to one million people have been killed and about half a million are detained in prisons where they are tortured and murdered. Two-thirds of the country is destroyed. Dr. Amani Ballour amongst the rubble in SyriaNational GeographicWhat concerns me now is the safety of the Syrian Arab and Kurdish citizens in the north, especially the women and children who always pay the highest price in wars. So far, some 160,000 people have been displaced, many of whom were already refugees from other parts of Syria. With winter coming, the situation is even more urgent. Every winter, refugee camps in the north are flooded with water and mud, and tents become uninhabitable. The camps in the northwest were already overcrowded and miserable and are hardly equipped to take in more homeless, traumatized civilians.It is not too late for the free world to act, for Western nations to show that they believe what they say about human rights. An entire generation of Syrian children—2.6 million—have had no education whatsoever because of the war. They deserve schools in safe places, where they can learn without fear. Women in refugee camps often have no idea about their rights and they are frequently exploited to work for barely any pay. They deserve better. Right now, the international community could direct resources to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians who will soon be freezing. There is plenty of empty land in the northwest of Syria, where nongovernment organizations could build houses for people needing shelter. But in no way should those houses be considered anything but temporary. Because it is long past time for Syrians to be able to return to their own homes. For nearly nine years, the international community has let down the Syrian people. It has focused on solving the consequences of the crimes, instead of dealing with the culprits, Assad and his allies. It is not impossible to get Assad out of Syria, to hold him to account for his crimes against humanity. If we can get rid of Assad and free Syria of all foreign interference, then Syrians can begin new lives. We who are exiles and refugees can come home and join our fellow citizens in building a free, united, democratic Syria that includes all the Syrian people without discrimination.Dr. Amani Ballour is a Syrian pediatrician, activist and founder of the nonprofit foundation Al Amal. She worked for six years at the Cave, a secret underground hospital in East Al Ghouta that is the subject of the new documentary The Cave.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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Syria's Assad says Kurdish controlled northeast of Syria to fall eventually under state control

Syria's Assad says Kurdish controlled northeast of Syria to fall eventually under state controlSyrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday his country’s ultimate goal was to restore state authority over Kurdish controlled areas in northeast Syria after an abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal but said this would happen gradually. In an interview with state television, Assad also said that a deal this month between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to drive out the Kurdish-led YPG militia from a 30 km (19 mile) “safe zone” along the border was a step that would help Damascus in that goal.



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Turkey slams 'dirty deal' between Syria's Assad and Kurdish forces

Turkey slams 'dirty deal' between Syria's Assad and Kurdish forcesTurkey dismissed global opposition to its military operation in Syria on Tuesday and slammed a “dirty deal” between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Kurdish forces as US troops began their withdrawal from the battle zone. Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in Syria, launched a week ago, has been widely criticised by the international community, with the US, a NATO ally, slapping sanctions on Ankara. “We will continue to combat all terrorist groups, including Daesh (the Islamic State group), whether or not the world agrees to support our efforts,” Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, told AFP.



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Kurds agree to Russian-brokered plan to allow Assad into their territory

Kurds agree to Russian-brokered plan to allow Assad into their territoryThe West’s Kurdish allies on Sunday night announced they had agreed to a Russian-brokered deal to allow the Assad regime into their territory in a bid to spare their cities from a Turkish assault after they were abandoned by Donald Trump.  Hours after the US said it was withdrawing all of its troops from northern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said it had reached an agreement to allow Bashar al-Assad’s troops into their territory.  “If we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people,” said Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the commander of the SDF.  It was not immediately clear if the agreement with Assad would bring a halt to the Turkish offensive or if the Turkish military and its Syrian rebel allies would continue to advance.  But the deal appeared to strike a death knell for Kurdish hopes of maintaining autonomy from Damascus in their own semi-state in northeast Syria.  Read more | Syria crisis The announcement marked a stunning fall for the SDF, who just a week ago could count on the support of the US military in deterring Turkey from taking action.  That security came to an end last Sunday night when Mr Trump told Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, the US would not interfere in a Turkish attack on northeast Syria. “The betrayal process is officially completed," an SDF official said of the US withdrawal.    Turkish warplanes thundered into Syrian airspace while Turkish-backed rebel forces advanced against the SDF on the ground and on Sunday night Kurdish commanders decided they had to strike a deal to prevent annihilation.  While the formal details of the agreement were not announced, Syrian regime forces appeared poised to enter many of the key Kurdish-held cities along the Turkish-Syrian border, including Kobani, Manbij and Qamishli.  Many of the areas hold vast symbolic importance for the Kurds, who have lost 11,000 men fighting against the Islamic State (Isil) in the last five years to free those cities from jihadist rule.   A woman sits in the back of a truck as they flee Ras-al-Ain The announcement came after Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, said he and Mr Trump had decided to withdraw all 1,000 US troops from northern Syria because the Turks “likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned”.  “We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation,” he said on Sunday morning.   While Mr Trump said last week he was removing around 50 US commandos from a 120km section of the Turkey-Syria border, hundreds of other American soldiers remained near Kurdish key cities like Kobani and Qamishli.  News of the US retreat sparked panic across northern Syria as civilians, who believed their towns might be spared from Turkish onslaught by the presence of American forces, started fleeing their homes. At least 200,000 people have been displaced so far, aid groups said, and the number is likely to rise. The town of Ras-al-Ain in flames The decision came as civilian casualties mounted and Islamic State prisoners took advantage of the chaos to mount a mass escape. Kurdish authorities said early on Sunday around 785 women and children escaped from a camp in Ain Issa when it came under attack from Turkish shelling. Isil inmates “attacked the camp guard and opened the gates” while Kurdish forces were under fire, authorities said.  Tooba Gondal, a notorious British Isil recruiter from Walthamstow, and her two children, may have been among those who fled and her whereabouts were unknown on Sunday night. Ms Gondal travelled to Syria to join Isil in 2015 and has been accused of grooming other young British women, including Shamima Begum, to follow her. There were unconfirmed reports last night that Ms Gondal had contacted family back in Britain to tell them she had escaped the camp.   The Telegraph understands at least three other British women, and reportedly three British orphans, were held in Ain Issa camp before the break-out. British Isil recruiter Tooba Gondal pictured inside Ain Issa camp The SDF warned the West the breakout may be the first of many and that the resurgent jihadists “will come knocking on your doors” if the Turkish offensive is not stopped. Mr Trump said on Sunday night that Turkey and the Kurds must not allow Isil prisoners to escape and blamed the terror risk on Europe for not taking them back. "The US has the worst of the ISIS prisoners. Turkey and the Kurds must not let them escape," he tweeted. "Europe should have taken them back after numerous requests. They should do it now. They will never come to, or be allowed in, the United States!" The SDF said Turkish-backed rebel fighters intercepted a car carrying Hevrin Khalaf, a Kurdish political leader with the Future Syria Party, and shot her to death along with her driver and an aide on Saturday. Video footage showed her black SUV riddled with bullet holes while Arabic-speaking Syrian fighters cheered. Turkey has said such fighters, known as the National Army, would be at the forefront of anti-Isil operations once the Kurds were defeated.  While US officials insisted America was opposed to the Turkish invasion, Mr Trump struck a laissez-faire note in a series of Sunday morning tweets. Plight of the Kurds | Timeline of Western involvement “The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years,” he noted. “Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!” The US has yet to slap any sanctions on Turkey for the assault, despite White House warnings that it would target the Turkish economy if the offensive led to a humanitarian crisis or disrupted anti-Isil operations.  Both outcomes have already happened. At least 60 civilians have been killed in northern Syria and 18 civilians have died from Kurdish shelling in southern Turkey since last Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory.  France and Germany both announced they were halting arms sales to Turkey but the UK did not match their announcements. Britain approved military export licenses worth £583m to Turkey in 2017, including licenses for attack aircraft and helicopters.



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Assad troops enter north-east Syria after Russia-backed deal with Kurds

Assad troops enter north-east Syria after Russia-backed deal with KurdsBashar al-Assad’s forces swept into cities across northeast Syria for the first time in seven years on Monday after the West’s former Kurdish allies agreed to a Russian-brokered deal to try to hold off a Turkish attack.  The Syrian regime’s black-and-red flag went up across the region as Russia seized on Donald Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds to restore Assad’s rule over swathes of territory he has not controlled since 2012.  Assad’s troops clashed with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels outside Manbij, a key city on the Turkey-Syria border where US forces are evacuating on Mr Trump’s orders.  Western officials are watching closely to see if the skirmishes escalate into a direct confrontation between Turkey and the Syrian regime, or whether Russia can broker another deal to keep the two countries from clashing. Several European countries joined France and Germany in halting arms sales to Turkey, as the EU put out a joint statement condemning the offensive.  A Syrian regime soldier waves the national flag a street on the western entrance of the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on October 14, 2019 Credit: AFP Fears were also rising over an Islamic State (Isil) resurgence as it emerged that US forces had failed to secure dozens of the most hardened jihadist fighters, and Isil prisoners once again rioted against their Kurdish guards.  Mr Trump suggested the Kurds were deliberately freeing Isil prisoners in a bid to get the West’s attention, a talking point that has been repeatedly used by Turkey’s government to discredit its Kurdish enemies.    Assad’s re-entry into northeastern Syria marks a dramatic redrawing of the lines of control in the war-torn country and likely signals the beginning of the end of seven years of Kurdish autonomy in the area.  Regime fighters began entering the provinces of Hasakah and Raqqa and were moving quickly to consolidate their control over long swathes of the Turkish-Syrian border with the permission of Kurdish troops.  The exact details of the agreement between Damascus and the Kurds remains unclear. Kurdish authorities insisted that they would maintain their political autonomy and that the deal was focused solely on military issues.  Syrian regime forces are pictured as they patrol a street on the western entrance of the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on October 14, 2019 Credit: AFP But other reports suggested that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Western-backed Kurdish units who led the fight against Isil, would be folded into Assad’s army and that northeast Syria would come back under direct rule from Damascus.     The immediate focus of the newly-aligned SDF and Assad regime is to repel Turkish-backed rebels from seizing control of Manbij, a border city west of the Euphrates River which is currently in Kurdish hands.  The Syrian rebels, known as the National Army, said Monday night they had launched an operation to “liberate Manbij and its surroundings from the terrorist gangs”. The National Army claimed to have engaged Assad’s forces and captured a tank in a first round of fighting. The battle for Manbij will pose a test for Turkey, which must decide whether to back its Syrian rebel allies with airstrikes at the risk of sparking a confrontation with the Syrian regime. Turkey – Syria map Russia is believed to be relaying messages between the two sides to try to avert conflict.  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, said he was determined to put the city under the control “our Arabic brothers” in the National Army. But while Turkish warplanes thundered overhead there were no reports they were striking Assad’s forces in support of the rebels.  US forces have been ordered to evacuate northern Syria but many troops remained caught up in the chaos as different armed groups maneuvered and the roads remained clogged with refugees.  Sen. Lindsey Graham Credit: AP The situation in northeast Syria collapsed into disorder so quickly that US special forces did not have time to carry out a plan to seize around 60 of the top Isil fighters in Kurdish custody, according to the New York Times.  US commandos had planned to take the prisoners from the Kurds and move them to Iraq but were unable to reach a key road in time.  It is not known if any British fighters were among the 60 men on the US list. America has already taken custody of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, the two surviving members of the “Beatles” group of alleged British executioners.      The report appeared to drastically undercut Mr Trump’s claim that “the US has the worst of the Isil prisoners”.  Mr Trump also said the “Kurds may be releasing some [Isil prisoners] to get us involved” in trying to stop Turkey’s offensive. Mr Erdoğan and other Turkish officials have made the same claim repeatedly in recent days.  The Turkish military released a video which it claimed showed its commandos entering a Kurdish prison only to find that the guards had released all the inmates. But Kurdish officials suggested the video was staged at an empty facility never used as a prison.  SDF guards at a prison were wounded during a riot by Isil prisoners at Ain Issa, according to Kurdish media. The Isil suspects still in Kurdish custody are panicked at the prospect they could be handed over to the Assad regime, which has a long history of torturing detainees.



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Assad Sends Syrian Troops North as Turkish Offensive Escalates

Assad Sends Syrian Troops North as Turkish Offensive Escalates(Bloomberg) — Syrian government forces pushed closer to the Turkish border after striking a deal with Kurdish fighters, as Washington’s decision to abandon its allies reverberated on the battlefield.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his offensive into Syria is necessary to push back Kurdish militants and resettle refugees, but the rapid advance has drawn international condemnation, accusations of war crimes and a threat of U.S. and European sanctions.Kurdish forces that previously fought alongside the U.S. have warned they may no longer be able to secure camps and prisons holding Islamic State jihadists, including Europeans whose home countries don’t want them back.Donald Trump reiterated on Monday that “big sanctions on Turkey” are coming, but defended his decision in Twitter posts reiterating that the U.S. was “not going into another war with people who have been fighting with each other for 200 years.” He also suggested the Kurds may be releasing prisoners “to get us involved.”Turkey’s benchmark index extended losses to 5.7% after Trump’s comment.The Syrian advance into the northeast has raised concerns that the eight-year Syrian war, which grew out of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, is entering a new and unpredictable phase. Russia, whose aerial support helped turn the tide of the conflict in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, has emerged as the key power broker in the latest battle.Erdogan launched the Turkish offensive on Wednesday, after receiving assurances from Trump that U.S. troops, which supported the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia during five years of grinding war to defeat Islamic State, would stand aside. Turkey accuses the YPG of links to a separatist group it has been battling for decades and wants to prevent the rise of a Kurdish proto-state on its border.Assad’s march to the border comes after the Kurdish command for the northeast said it had been forced to strike a deal with Damascus in the face of the rapid Turkish advance.Russia helped to broker Sunday’s agreement that could eventually see Assad reestablish control over an area equivalent to roughly one-third of Syrian territory where, with American protection, Kurdish groups had been able to operate an autonomous administration called Rojava.Syria’s army deployed in Al Tabqa airbase and Ain Issa and was now stationed six kilometers away from the border with Turkey, according to Syria’s Al Ekhbariyah TV, which showed footage of soldiers carrying Syrian flags being welcomed by local residents.For now, the Assad deployment will be limited to stopping the Turkish advance on the border, Aldar Xelil, a spokesman for the Kudish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said. The autonomous administration remains in place responsible for political leadership and internal security, he said.“As far as the Syrian forces’ advance, Russia has always wanted the government to recover control of as much territory as possible,” said Elena Suponina, a Moscow-based Middle East expert. “Now that this opportunity has presented itself the Syrian army’s actions are absolutely justified.”Russia is also mediating between Assad and the advancing Turks to avert a conflict over two key border towns — Manbij and Kobani — that Erdogan wants to remove from Kurdish control.Who Are the Syrian Kurds the U.S. Is Abandoning?: QuickTakeGiving credit to Russia’s mediation, Erdogan played down the threat of an escalation between his army and Assad but indicated that he was pushing ahead with a plan to carve out a buffer zone inside northeastern Syria in which to resettle some 2 million of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.The cross-border operation is taking place between the Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn and appears to be in line with a previous deal between Turkey and the U.S. to set up a joint safe zone that could run about 120 kilometers along the frontier.“Even though they have done a deal with Syria, (the Kurds) have a very weak hand and the U.S. withdrawal means we’re probably witnessing the end of the ambition of an autonomous Kurdish region for the foreseeable future,” said Bob Bowker, who served as Australia’s Ambassador to Syria for three years from 2005. “It also means that Russia and Syria are probably unlikely to have either the military ability or intelligence resources to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State.”Trump Has Ordered Troop Withdrawal From N. Syria, Esper Says (2)Kurdish-led forces have tens of thousands of Islamic State fighters, their families, sympathizers and others in their custody in prisons and camps in the northeast. Xelil said that would not change, despite the deployment of Assad’s troops to the border, though Kurdish-led forces have previously warned that they may not be able to secure those areas while fending off an offensive by Turkey. Even Trump allies have warned that chaos in the area could lead to an Islamic State resurgence.Turkey echoed Trump’s suggestion that the Kurds had allowed jihadists to escape, saying that detainees at the one Islamic State jail in the border area were gone when Turkish forces arrived.Facing a backlash at home and abroad, Trump has defended his decision to withdraw from the line of fire, saying he did not support the Turkish offensive. On Sunday, he said the U.S. Treasury had further sanctions ready to impose on Turkey. He gave no timeline.European Union foreign ministers pledged to restrict arms sales to Turkey over its military operation in Syria, seeking to bolster calls for an immediate halt to the offensive. Germany and France said Saturday they stopped shipments of military equipment to their NATO ally.EU Curbs Arm Sales to Turkey, Threatens Sanctions Over Drilling\–With assistance from Nikos Chrysoloras, Jason Scott, Onur Ant, Helene Fouquet and Jonathan Stearns.To contact the reporters on this story: Dana Khraiche in Beirut at dkhraiche@bloomberg.net;Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net;Samer Khalil Al-Atrush in Cairo at skhalilalatr@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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Syria's Kurds look to Assad for protection after US pullout

Syria's Kurds look to Assad for protection after US pulloutSyria’s Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed Sunday to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion — a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos. The shift could lead to clashes between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to President Bashar Assad and his chief backer, Russia.



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US says Assad again used chemical weapons, vows action

US says Assad again used chemical weapons, vows actionThe United States vowed a response Thursday as it said it had confirmed another chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, although there were no fatalities. The Assad regime used chlorine on May 19 in Latakia province during its ferocious offensive to take back the last major rebel stronghold in nearby Idlib, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “The United States will not allow these attacks to go unchallenged nor will we tolerate those who choose to conceal these atrocities,” Pompeo told reporters in New York, where he was taking part in the UN General Assembly.



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Assad troops force Syrian rebels to retreat from key town

Assad troops force Syrian rebels to retreat from key townBashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture all of Syria as his forces made significant battlefield gains and drove rebel fighters out of a strategic town he once attacked with chemical weapons. Syrian regime troops pushed rebel forces from Khan Sheikhoun, a town where Assad’s jets once dropped chemical weapons and killed nearly 100 people, prompting Donald Trump to launch retaliatory airstrikes in 2017.  The town has been under rebel control since 2014 and its fall marks a victory for Assad as his troops attempt to conquer Idlib, the last opposition-held province in the northwest of Syria.     Rebel forces led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, said they were retreating to an area south of the town but would continue fighting against the regime’s advancing troops. Regime troops advanced into the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun but had yet to fully occupy it. Speaking at a meeting with MPs from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, Assad hailed his forces’ progress. “The victories that were achieved prove the determination of the people and the army to defeat terrorists until the liberation of the last inch of Syrian territory,” he said.   He also accused Turkey and Western states of supporting jihadist groups in Syria. Tensions between Turkey and the Syrian regime have been rising sharply as Assad’s forces drive into Idlib, where the Turkish military has 12 military outposts. Regime jets bombed near a Turkish military convoy on Monday, killing three civilians, according to Turkey’s defence ministry. After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition  Credit: AFP The fall of Khan Sheikhoun means that one of the Turkish military outposts is now effectively surrounded by regime forces. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that his country would not withdraw from the outpost at Morek and warned the Syrian regime not to interfere with it.  “We don’t have an intention such as moving this elsewhere,” Mr Cavusoglu said. “We will do whatever is necessary for the security of our own soldiers and observation posts.” Turkey says it established the outposts to counter jihadist groups and help enforce a ceasefire it brokered alongside Russia. The Syrian regime says the outposts are a violation of Syrian sovereignty but has so far refrained from directly attacking them.  However, as the regime advances further into Idlib the chances of a direct confrontation with Turkish forces seem to be rising.  Assad’s forces launched their offensive against Idlib in April but made relatively little progress until the last few weeks, when they have advanced rapidly with the support of withering airstrikes by Russian warplanes.   Around 500 civilians have been killed since the offensive began, including more than 100 children, according to aid groups. A young girl named Jana was killed by Russian bombing on Tuesday, opposition activists said.   The fighting has displaced over 500,000 people in southern Idlib and the northern of the neighbouring province of Hama. Khain Sheikhoun was seen as important symbol of opposition to Assad by rebel supporters “One of the revolution’s castles is occupied by its destroyers,” said one Syrian man in Idlib.  Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the Islamic State (Isil) remains a threat in Syria and Iraq but has lost much of its ability to carry out centrally-planned attacks on the West.  "There are places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago," Mr Pompeo told CBS. "But the caliphate is gone in their capacity to conduct external attacks, it's been made much more difficult," he said. The jihadist group was driven from its last territorial stronghold this year but continues to mount insurgency attacks in both Iraq and Syria.



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