BEIRUT: Attacks by two Jihadist groups killed at least 22 Syrian government troops and militiamen in the northern province of Aleppo early on Saturday, a war monitor said.
Thirty others were wounded in the assaults by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and its ally Hurras al-Deen, which remains affiliated to the global Jihadist network, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The attacks in the southern and southwestern countryside of Aleppo province were launched shortly after midnight and triggered clashes that continued until dawn, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He said the fighting subsided after Russian aircraft struck Jihadist positions in the area, prompting the fighters to pull back.
Eight Jihadists were killed, he added.
Russia aircraft also carried out strikes in neighbouring Hama province early on Saturday, killing five civilians, the Observatory said.
On Friday, Russian strikes killed 10 civilians in Idlib province, the hub of territory held by the Jihadists of HTS in northwestern Syria.
Russia and rebel-backer Turkey in September inked a buffer zone deal to avert a massive government offensive on the Idlib region, but the deal has never been implemented.
The region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.
The latest Russian air raids came after two days of talks on the Syrian conflict between Turkey, Russia and fellow government backer Iran in Kazakhstan earlier this week.
The three governments expressed concern over the growing power of HTS in Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces, and determination to cooperate to eliminate the Jihadist group.
The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out a situation where Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, would launch a full-scale assault against terrorists in Syria’s northern province of Idlib.
Speaking to reporters in the Chinese capital, Beijing, on Saturday, Putin said time was not ripe for such a military operation due to the presence of civilians in parts of the militant-held province.
Such an operation, he said, “is not expedient now” and the security of civilians needs to be taken into account.
“I don’t rule it (a full-scale assault) out, but right now we and our Syrian friends consider that to be inadvisable given this humanitarian element,” Putin said.
He said Moscow and Damascus would continue their fight against terrorism and that any militants who tried to break out of Idlib, something he said happened from time to time, were bombed.
Idlib, located in northwestern Syria, remains the only large area in the hands of anti-Damascus militants after government forces — backed by Iran and Russia — managed to undo militant gains across the country and bring back almost all of Syrian soil under government control.
Around 90,000 militants are estimated to be holed up in Idlib, which has a population of some three million.
However, a few months later, the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Takfiri militant alliance dominated by al-Nusra Front terrorists, swept through towns and villages in Idlib.
Meanwhile, Turkey has been trying to avert a Syrian offensive against the city near its borders.
On Friday, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al-Ja’fari accused Turkey’s intelligence services of supporting HTS t terrorist group, saying Ankara’s move was “another form of terrorism”.
According to Ja’fari, Turkey has provided terrorists in Idlib with dozens of shells charged with toxic chemicals for use against the Syrian army and civilians.
“There is a great amount of chemical weapons in stock in Idlib. They will be put to use if Syria and its allies try to regain control of Idlib by military means,” he said.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.
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