The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that hundreds of Syrian terrorists have launched attacks against regime forces in several parts of Syria's Idlib province, killing up to 40 Syrian soldiers. The ministry said that militants had seized two settlements in one of the offensives, which began on Wednesday, forcing Syrian army troops to abandon some of their positions in the southeast of the so-called Idlib de-escalation zone under rocket fire.
Idlib is the last opposition-held swathe of territory in the country and hundreds of thousands of people in the area have fled in recent weeks amid heavy airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces. Russia said Syrian regime forces had killed up to 50 terrorists and wounded up to 90 attackers.
Syrian state media made no mention of army casualties but said an attack that included car bombs and heavy gunfire early on Thursday had forced some of its forces to re-deploy. The spokesman for the National Liberation Front coalition of rebel groups Naji al-Mustafa disputed the Syrian media and Russian government accounts and said no such assault had taken place on Wednesday or Thursday.
Mustafa said attacks had been carried out against government forces earlier in the week as a response to stepped-up strikes against them in Idlib, but the area had seen no operations over the past 24 hours.
Moscow said the attackers were from different groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that were equipped with pickup trucks, armoured personnel carriers, tanks, and heavy machine guns.
UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen will visit Russia on Friday, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Pedersen is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Diplomatic sources suggested that discussions will likely focus on the work of the Constitutional Committee and the evolving situation in Syria’s northwest.
(with agencies input)