AMMAN: Regime forces have launched a new campaign just west of Aleppo city to cut off neighboring Idlib province from the Turkish border, a correspondent on the frontlines with the pro-regime Lebanese al-Mayadeen channel told Syria Direct Tuesday.
The endgame is the capture of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, said Ridha al-Basha, who is currently embedded with Syrian army forces west of Aleppo city. If the Syrian army can take back the border post, it would “isolate Idlib from the Turkish border,” he said.
The army’s campaign, which began on Monday, aims first to capture the town of Khan al-Asal, approximately 2.5km west of Aleppo city, in a four-pronged attack, reported state-owned news agency SANA Monday.
Khan al-Asal was the site of a 2013 massacre in which rebel forces executed surrendered Syrian soldiers en masse. Pro-regime media reported at the time that up to 100 civilians were also killed.
From Khan al-Asal, regime forces intend to move west into the Aleppo countryside, said embedded correspondent al-Basha. The area is controlled by Jabhat a-Nusra, Feilaq a-Sham and Ahrar a-Sham.
From there, the Syrian army would move a few dozen kilometers northwest to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Idlib province. Bab al-Hawa is the only rebel-held border connecting Turkey to Idlib province, as well as a crucial point on rebel supply lines originating from Turkey.
“Idlib is now a priority for the Syrian army…separating Idlib and isolating it totally, then liberating it,” said al-Basha.
The regime’s push towards Bab al-Hawa coincides with a campaign in the northern Latakia countryside to take rebel-held areas along the Turkish border, including Jabal a-Turkman and Jabal al-Akrad. Both offensive campaigns are unfolding just days before the international talks in Geneva to bring about a political solution for Syria, scheduled to take place on January 25.
That Latakia campaign also aims to isolate Idlib from neighboring rebel-held areas in the province’s north, namely Jabal al-Akrad, Mohammed al-Hassan, a citizen journalist from the Idlib countryside told Syria Direct Tuesday. On the same day, regime forces captured Salma, a rebel-held outpost in north Latakia that serves as the first line of defense for Jabal al-Akrad.
The Khan al-Asal operation in Aleppo province is occurring “in harmony and cooperation with the Syrian army operations room in the Latakia province,” said Ridha al-Basha.
As of Monday, regime forces had reached the outskirts of Khan al-Asal, reported the state-owned Organization of Syrian Arab Radio and TV Monday.