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Syrian army recaptures most of key rebel-held town

By AFP - Jan 28,2020 - Last updated at Jan 28,2020

This handout photo released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Monday reportedly shows Syrian soldiers gesturing on top of a tank while operating in the northern Aleppo province (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — The Syrian army on Tuesday recaptured most of Maaret Al Numan, a semi-deserted town of symbolic and strategic importance in Syria's last major rebel-held bastion, state media and a war monitor said.

"The Syrian army has retaken most neighbourhoods in Maaret Al Numan" and are now combing recaptured areas, said state news agency SANA, shortly after Damascus loyalists first entered the town in the northwest province of Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that most rebels and extremists had pulled out after the army stormed the town from multiple fronts earlier in the day.

It said regime forces were left battling the few fighters that remained holed-up in the area, which has been under opposition control since 2012.

Maaret Al Numan, which is nearly deserted after months of bombardment, lies on the M5 highway linking Damascus to Syria’s second city Aleppo, a main artery coveted by the regime as it tries to rekindle a moribund economy.

It is also the second biggest urban centre in the beleaguered opposition bastion of Idlib.

Its recapture would bring the army a step closer to taking full control of the wider extremist-run bastion and the M5 highway that runs through it.

The army’s advance is part of a multipronged push in northwest Syria, dominated by extremists of the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham alliance and their rebel allies.

The violence has displaced around 358,000 people in Syria’s northwest since December, the United Nations says.

Misty Buswell of the International Rescue Committee warned that the latest escalation “will only add to the humanitarian catastrophe that is already unfolding”.

The Idlib region is home to three million people, half of whom have already been displaced from other parts of the country.

The latest push to retake Maarat Al Numan coincides with battles between the Syrian army and extremists in the west of Aleppo province, a rebel-held area that in mid-January became the latest front of fighting in northwest Syria.

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