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Militants leave key Idlib town, last Hama stronghold after Syrian army advances

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian government forces gather near Khan Shaykhun, Idlib Province, on August 18, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Foreign-backed militants have reportedly withdrawn from a key town in Syria’s embattled Idlib Province as well as their last bastion in the nearby province of Hama, as government forces make more gains in the northwest.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and local sources reported Tuesday that the militants had pulled out of the town of Khan Shaykhun in the southern part of Idlib and a nearby area in neighboring Hama Province.

The withdrawal came after Syrian army troops and their allied fighters managed to enter Khan Shaykhun, which had been occupied by foreign-backed terrorists since 2014.

Syria’s advances near Khan Shaykhun threatened to encircle the militants in their last remaining Hama bastion, including the towns of Latamneh and Kafr Zeita.

Local sources confirmed the militant withdrawal from the two Hama towns.

The SOHR also said anti-Damascus militants, who had stayed behind, gathered at a Turkish military position in the Hama town of Morek.

SOHR Head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the pullout means that a Turkish observation point in Morek is effectively surrounded by Syrian government forces.

However, the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group claimed in a statement that its elements had redeployed in Khan Shaykhun and still controlled adjoining Hama towns.

The Damascus government has not yet reacted to the reports.

On Monday, a Turkish military convoy carrying ammunition crossed the border into Idlib, sparking condemnation from Damascus.

The Khan-Shaykhun-bound convoy, however, was stuck just north of the town amid Syrian government airstrikes on militant positions and advances on the battlefield.

“The Syrian army in its own way sent a clear message to the Turkish regime by forcing convoys sent by Ankara to help the terrorists in Khan Shaykhun to come to a halt,” Syria’s al-Watan newspaper reported.

It was a “clear warning against any Turkish attempt to resuscitate the terrorists,” it added.

Idlib Province and parts of adjacent Hama Province constitute the last major militant stronghold in Syria.

Syrian government forces have recently been trying to liberate the region in their push towards final victory over terrorists.

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