Rebels press Idlib victories

A coalition of rebels have continued their advances against regime troops in Idlib province, seizing a military base south of the provincial capital days after the key town of Jisr al-Shughur fell into their hands.

“Army of Conquest fighters… on Monday morning seized control of the Qarmeed military base, one of the most important remaining regime bastions in the Idlib province,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The Al-Nusra Front, a leading group in the Army of Conquest coalition, announced in the early hours of Monday that “Qarmeed has been completely liberated.”

The Al-Qaeda-linked group published a number of photos and videos on their Twitter account showing fighters moving through the facility.

The Qarmeed base, located south of Idlib city, is situated on the eastern edge of a regime-held corridor of territory that stretches westward to Jisr al-Shughur and then down to the Al-Ghab plain, which straddles the Latakia and Hama provinces.

Last week, Islamist battalions and other rebel units in the Army of Conquest coalition that seized Idlib in a dramatic late March offensive, mustered 10,000 fighters for a major offensive against the regime-held positions.

On Saturday, the fighters entered Jisr al-Shughur—which lies a on supply route linking the Idlib and Latakia provinces—and cut the road leading eastward to Ariha, trapping regime troops in the Qarmeed and nearby Mastouma bases.

The Observatory reported that the rebels stormed the Qarmeed base after two militants detonated explosive-laden vehicles outside the facility, killing at least 15 pro-regime soldiers.

Pro-rebel media activist Hadi Abdullah released a front-line video report of the attack on the camp, interviewing a local commander following the successful offensive.

“At first we sent an explosives-rigged car into the gas station [outside Qarmeed]. It killed everyone in the gas station and everyone at the main gate,” a commander in the Army of Conquest told Abdullah.

“Our brothers entered and [secured] the gas station, and took the chicken farms [madajin]… but the regime’s soldiers [maintained their positions] at the main gate, so the [rebels] sent in another explosives-rigged car […] carrying two tons of explosives […] then the Nusairi army withdrew toward the southwest corner.”

“Our brothers pursued them and surrounded a group that included a captain. Some of them [the regime soldiers] were imprisoned and others were killed.”

The Army of Conquest rebels over the weekend notched another success to the west of the Qarmeed base, seizing the Sunni-populated town of Jisr al-Shughur on the road to Latakia.

The SOHR reported Saturday that the Al-Nusra Front, Jund al-Sham and other Islamist battalions had seized the city after violent clashes with pro-regime forces.

The Observatory cited trusted sources as saying that at least 60 pro-regime soldiers, including one officer, were killed in the fighting for the town.

Syrian state TV, in turn, claimed that regime forces had redeployed from the city to its surroundings to “avoid civilian casualties.”

Following the fall of Jisr al-Shughur, Syrian jets conducted over 20 bombing raids on the town, as both rebels and pro-government outlets exchanged accusations that their opponents had conducted massacres in the town.

Jisr al-Shughur had been under regime control since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

The rebel officer claimed that the roads leading from Qarmeed to the nearby Mastouma base were now almost entirely cut, adding that the regime “is trying to secure their route of withdrawal, so they are fortifying the base west of Mseibeen.”

“Our artillery has been directed at Mastouma, while other artillery has been directed at Mseibeen. We ask God almighty to bestow a swift victory upon us.”

The SOHR reported that the rebels seized “seven tanks, six mortar cannons, and a number of rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers and heavy machine guns, as well as a large amount of ammunition,” following the capture of the base.

“Since this morning, regime warplanes have carried out 8 raids and helicopters have dropped no less than 10 barrel bombs,” the monitoring group said.

Rebels also pressed their offensive in the Al-Ghab plain, which stretches for approximately 63 kilometers north to south along the Coastal Mountain Range outside Latakia.

The campaign in the area has been led by a coalition that brings together the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham as well as the FSA-affiliated Mountain Falcons Brigade, Al-Ghab Falcons, Steadfastness Front and First Coastal Division, all of which announced Wednesday they were starting the battle along with the Ajnad al-Sham and Sham Front groups.

ARA news reported Sunday that heavy clashes were raging in a number of points in Al-Ghab, especially at the Tanmiyah checkpoint.

“Syrian rebels have seized five villages and 13 military points in Al-Ghab,” media activist Mahmoud al-Hamawi told the news outlet, which is close to Syria’s Kurds.

Meanwhile, Turkish Anadolu news agency said that rebels had “seized control of most regime checkpoints in Al-Ghab… most prominently the Cairo, Tal Wasit, Tal Atram and Sawamaa checkpoints after three days of heated clashes.”

The outlet added that rebels had seized a T-55 tank, four BMP armored vehicles as well as heavy weapons and ammunition, in the clashes, which left 30 regime troops dead.

Rebels operating in the Al-Ghab plain publicized a number of videos showing off the captured material, including tanks, artillery and large ammunition caches.

Meanwhile, a commander in the Mountain Falcons Brigade told Anadolu that rebels were seeking to advance “on the Al-Ziyara and Al-Tanmiya al-Rifiya checkpoints, the last two checkpoints under regime control in the region.”

“After that, the [Al-Ghab] plain will under complete opposition control.”

Published by NOW Lebanon on Monday April 26th, 2015

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