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Regime forces in full retreat in Syria's Idlib

Al-Fatah forces in Idlib province, May 29, 2015. [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 May, 2015

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Syrian rebels are close to declaring Idlib 'liberated' province after regime forces retreated from Ariha, the last city under their control in the province.

Syrian troops retreated as regime warplanes bombarded  rebel fighters on Friday, a day after they overran the last government-held city in the key northwestern province of Idlib.  

Opposition forces now control the vast majority of Idlib after Al-Nusra Front and its allies in Jaysh al-Fateh  [or Army of Conquest] captured Ariha and surrounding villages on Thursday in a swift assault.    

A fighter supporting Jaysh al-Fateh spoke to al-Araby al-Jadeed on condition of anonymity, confiming the claims by the rebels:

 “Ariha was liberated only four hours after the opposition attacked. Assad’s forces retreated to the Urum al-Jawz town following the attacks by the rebels.”  

Ariha  had a population of 60,000 people before the revolution.

Aleppo next? 

The retreat by the regime come some six days after opposition forces took over the national hospital in the town of Jisr al-Shughur, following the withdrawal of the Syrian regime forces towards the south.

In the battle of Jisr al-Shughur, the regime’s forces lost about 200 fighters, while dozens others were injured.  

Ten days ago, Jaysh al-Fateh also seized full control of the town of Mastouma and the adjacent camp, which is considered one of the largest regime fortresses in the north, as well as the regime’s operations room in Idlib. 

These defeats means that the regime’s presence in Idlib is now  confined to the besieged and out-of-service Abu al-Duhur air base and small towns in southern Idlib, as well as the pro-regime areas of Kafriyah and al-Foua. 

It was the latest blow to loyalist forces who have been battling myriad groups of rebels for four years, after the fall of the ancient city of Palmyra to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group last week.    

"The lightning offensive ended with a heavy pullout of regime forces and their allies from the western side of the city," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  

"We can't even say there were real clashes with the government in Ariha."     

President Bashar al-Assad's regime still holds the Abu Duhur military airport and a sprinkling of villages and military posts in Idlib. 

"The territories that are vital to protect for the regime are Damascus, Homs, Hama, and the coast," a Syrian security source said. 

"Idlib is no longer part of these calculations, which explains the army's rapid retreat," he told AFP.  

The province borders Turkey to the north, coastal regime bastions to the west, and the flashpoint province of Aleppo to the east.   

Abdel Rahman said the regime was suffering from a serious lack of fighting forces and "could no longer afford any more human losses".   

"Even with the support of Iran and Hizballah, it cannot make up the soldiers," he said.   

"If this continues, the regime might lose Aleppo."   

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