Government troops Sunday fired artillery and missiles to target their opponents in Idlib’s southern countryside, according to local news media.
Nearly a dozen rebels and jihadists were reportedly killed and wounded in the attacks, while at least two government soldiers were killed in counterattacks.
Idlib is the last major stronghold controlled by forces opposed to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian troops, supported by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, for months have been pushing into the enclave.
“By intensifying its attacks, the Assad regime wants to fully control the highway that connects Aleppo and Latakia provinces and goes through Idlib,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory, which has a network of researchers in Syria, said that among the groups targeted in the recent government attack in Idlib were Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Ansar al-Tawhid and Hurras al-Din.
HTS is the most powerful Islamist group present in Idlib and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. The other two smaller groups are affiliated with the al-Qaida terror group.
Several Turkey-backed rebel groups also have a significant presence in the embattled province.
Idlib falls in a so-called de-escalation zone, which was established as part of a 2017 deal between Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides of Syria’s decade-long conflict.
Despite the agreement, Russia-backed Syrian government troops have been taking control of more territory in the province where nearly 3 million people live.
Last March, Russia and Turkey reached a new deal that staved off a major Syrian government offensive on Idlib. As part of the agreement, the two countries began joint patrols along the key M4 highway.
But Turkey, which has a dozen observation posts in Idlib, is reportedly planning to withdraw some of its troops from the area. Last week, local news reports said Turkish troops will leave another observation post and two military positions.
Since October, Turkey has pulled out from four observation posts and at least two military positions in Idlib.