Beirut: A Syrian jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda has killed 21 regime and allied forces Sunday near Idlib province, in one of the deadliest breaches of a six-month-old truce deal.
“At dawn, 21 fighters from the regime forces or allied militia were killed in an attack by Ansar al-Tawhid jihadists,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Five jihadists were also killed,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Britain-based monitoring group informed. said.
Ansar al-Tawhid has ties to the larger Hurras al-Deen group, which is also active in the area. Both are considered semi-official franchises of the Al-Qaeda in Syria. The area of Idlib and small parts of the adjacent provinces of Hama and Aleppo are mostly controlled by the rival Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) organisation.
HTS is led by fighters who formerly belonged to Al-Qaeda’s ex-affiliate in Syria.
Sunday’s deadly attack was carried out against regime positions in the village of Masasna, in the north of Hama province, the Observatory said.
“It was one of the highest casualty figures among regime ranks since the Putin-Erdogan deal,” Abdel Rahman added.
He was referring to an agreement reached in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Under the deal, Turkey was supposed to exert its influence over anti-regime groups in the Idlib region to get them to pull back their fighters and heavy weapons from a demilitarised zone.
The government assault on the last major bastion of forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule has indeed been held off but the deal’s provisions have not been implemented and the de facto truce looks shakier than ever.
Since the Sochi agreement, HTS has consolidated its grip on the Idlib province and Turkey appears to be in no position to deliver on its commitment.