Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have driven out militants from the town of Khan Sheikhoun that has been under their control since 2014. The fall marks a victory for Syria’s efforts to clean up Idlib, the last opposition-held province in the country.
Militants of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, confirmed that they were retreating. President Assad has hailed the 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, according to a report from Al Jazeera. The fall of Khan Sheikhoun means that a Turkish military outpost is now effectively surrounded by Syrian forces.
After a slow offensive to regain Idlib in April, Syrian troops have now advanced more rapidly with Russian air support. President Macron, who on Monday hosted Putin at his summer residence, has expressed “profound worry” about the advances of Assad’s troops in northwest Syria.
“The population in Idlib is living under bombs, children are being killed,” Macron said. “It’s vital that the ceasefire agreed in Sochi is put into practice,” he said.
The Sochi agreement was signed in September last year between Russia and Turkey, outlining a truce to avert an expected Syrian army offensive. But Putin said Russia would be backing the Syrian army’s operations in Idlib.
“We support the efforts of the Syrian army … to end these terrorist threats” in Idlib, Putin told the French president. “We never said that in Idlib terrorists would feel comfortable,” he added.
The Russian President pointed out that “50 percent of the territory was controlled by terrorists,” before the Sochi ceasefire, “now it’s 90 percent … this is why we, of course, support the efforts of the Syrian army that aim to end this terrorist threat”.