Rebels kill 27 pro-govt fighters in northwest Syria: Monitor

Beirut: Rebels and extremist forces killed more than two dozen pro-government fighters in a joint attack in a northwestern stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government, a monitor said on Tuesday.
In retaliation, the government and its ally Russia pounded rebel-held areas in the coastal province of Latakia and neighbouring Idlib on Tuesday, killing four civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was the bloodiest opposition assault on the area in three years, according to the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside the country.
The surprise offensive late on Monday targeted a pair of villages and observation points in Latakia, near the Turkish border.
“At least 27 regime forces and allied fighters, including eight officers, were killed in fierce clashes and shelling in the village of Al Ateira,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
“They took Al Ateira and kicked out regime forces from several observation points after killing or wounding them.”
Another 40 government loyalists were wounded and six rebels were killed, he said. Al Ateira lies about two kilometres south of the Turkish border.
The Observatory said the opposition fighters included local rebels from Latakia as well as more hardline forces.
Latakia is the heartland of Assad’s governemnt on the Mediterranean coast, and is home to the Hmeimim airbase where Russian troops and warplanes have been based since 2015.
Forces opposed to Assad have repeatedly attacked the province since the uprising broke out in March 2011. They hold a northeastern sliver of territory bordering the neighbouring province of Idlib.
The regime and Russia bombarded that strip of land and parts of western Idlib with air strikes and artillery fire on Tuesday, killing four civilians, the monitor said.
That area falls under a de-escalation deal agreed last year between Russia, Iran, and Turkey.
A monitor said on Monday that several thousand Syrians have fled parts of the country’s south held by an affiliate of the IS group due to fears of a government attack.
The IS-held pocket in Daraa province’s western countryside is not included in a ceasefire deal agreed last week between rebels and the regime’s ally, Moscow.
That agreement put an end to more than two weeks of heavy bombing of rebel-controlled areas, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that those living under an IS affiliate feared they were the next target.
“Around 4,000 people including hundreds of women and children fled areas controlled by Jaish Khaled bin Walid in western parts of Daraa, towards the border with the occupied Golan,” the Britain-based monitor said.
The affiliate holds just under seven per cent of Daraa province, according to Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
The regime’s military advance and the handover of towns through the ceasefire deal has brought government forces to areas adjacent to the IS-controlled zone, Abdel Rahman said, but no operation had begun.
Up to 200,000 displaced Syrians are already seeking safety along the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to David Swanson, spokesman for the UN’s regional office working on Syria, which is based in Amman.
The waves of displacement caused by the Russian-backed government assault were the largest the south had seen since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011. More than 320,000 people fled waves of Russian and Syrian air strikes, barrel bombs, and rocket fire, many of them to the sealed border with Jordan or west near the occupied Golan.