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Militants’ defense in southern Idlib and northern Hama has collapsed.
On August 19, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Tiger Forces and their allies backed up by Syrian and Russian air power cut off the M5 highway north of Khan Shaykhun capturing several hills and checkpoints in the area. Late on the same day, government forces overrun militants’ fortifications entering the town.
On August 20, units of the SAA and the Tiger Forces continued clashing with militants in the area. The town is about to fall into the hands of government forces.
According to pro-government sources, militants are currently fleeing their positions in Kafr Zita, Lataminah, Moerk and nearby areas.
Turkey attempted to prevent this scenario by sending a large military convoy (28 pieces of military equipment, including at least 7 battle tanks) accompanied by Turkish-backed militants towards Khan Shaykhun. The plan was to establish so-called observation point near Khan Shaykhun and use Turkish troops as human shields to defend militants there. However, the convoy was not able to reach the target.
The Syrian Air Force carried out several strikes on the convoy path near Heish killing at least one militant field commander and destroying a vehicle armed with machine gun. The Turkish Defense Ministry officially condemned the strikes claiming that 3 civilians were killed and 12 others were injured as a result of the action. Ankara claimed that the convoy was initiated to ensure the safety of Observation Point No. 9, to keep supply routes open and prevent civilian casualties in the region.
Turkey even sent F-16 warplanes to Syrian airspace to defend the convoy, but they were welcomed by Russian fighter jets hovering over the same area and retreated.
The deep cooperation of so-called moderate opposition with terrorist groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and their unwillingness to participate in a proposed peace process predetermined a new round of escalation in the Idlib zone. In the near future, government troops will likely focus on clearing northern Hama.