Syrian rebels launch new offensive

Syrian rebel forces yesterday launched a major assault on a Russian air base and Syrian regime troops.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, Syrian forces repelled three large attacks by militants in Idlib province, the final remaining stretch of territory controlled by Syrian rebels. The Syrian regime said the attacks were led by al-Qaeda-linked militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

It said in a statement that 500 Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters, seven tanks, and about 30 pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns took part in the attacks. The ministry said that militants based in Idlib had also launched a missile attack on Russia’s Hmeymim air base on Wednesday, but that their missiles were either shot down or did not reach their target.

Syrian activists and rebels say opposition fighters have regained control of the village of Kfar Nabuda, which had previously been seized by regime forces on 8 May.

The US Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, has called for a ceasefire in Idlib. Speaking at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Jeffrey said: “These conflicts, back and forth exchanges … just put tremendous pressure on civilians, they raise the spectre of nation-to-nation clash. So we’re very much engaged in trying to get this stopped and get it back to the ceasefire we had basically since September.”

Jeffrey also said that the US is reminding its Syrian Kurdish allies not to get overly ambitious, and that an independent Kurdish state in Syria would not be possible. “We don’t have a political future that we can offer them. The political future we offer for them is the political future we offer for everybody in Syria … a democratic, peaceful government.” Addressing the recent reports of the use of chlorine gas, Jeffrey said: “So far we cannot confirm it, but we are watching it.”

The latest clashes mark the biggest escalation since last summer. At least 180,000 people have fled the violence in northwest Syria, according to Reuters.