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Syrian forces, Takfiri militants exchange heavy fire as army advances in Idlib

Clashes have broken out between Takfiri militants and Syrian government forces in the embattled northwestern province of Idlib, the last stronghold of the extremists.

Reuters news agency reported that fighting intensified on Wednesday as the Syrian army pushed to retake the city of Maarat al-Numan, located 33 kilometers (21 miles) south of the provincial capital city of Idlib.

The report added that militants have deployed snipers in an attempt to slow the Syrian army's progress. Government troops have managed to establish control over the strategic northwestern town of Khan Sheikoun.

“Because of our high preparation, the anti-government and Takfiri groups could not cross the berm now. There is no certain time for clashing as we fight with them every day,” said a Syrian army source, who only gave his first name as Salem.

On Monday, Syrian government forces managed to liberate the villages of Um al-Khalakhil, Dhahret a-Zarzour and al-Sayeer, besides farming land surrounding al-Musheirifa village from the grip of Takfiri militants.

The capture came after "intense battles" with members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported, noting that army soldiers inflicted heavy losses upon them.

 A number of the extremists managed to flee to nearby areas, and that a search operation is underway to hunt them down.

On Sunday, Syrian government forces succeeded in wresting full control over al-Musheirifa village following heavy exchanges of gunfire with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham terrorists.

The Takfiris were using the village as a launching pad for their mortar attacks on areas in southern Idlib, which have returned to government control.

On August 5, the Syrian army declared in a statement the start of an offensive against foreign-sponsored militants in Idlib after those positioned in the de-escalation zone failed to honor a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey and continued to target civilian neighborhoods.

“Even though the Syrian Arab Army declared a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone of Idlib on August 1, armed terrorist groups, backed by Turkey, refused to abide by the ceasefire and launched many attacks on civilians in surrounding areas,” SANA cited a statement released by the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces.

“The Turkish regime’s persistence in allowing its terrorist pawns in Idlib to carry out attacks proves that Ankara is maintaining its destructive approach and is ignoring its commitments as per the Sochi agreement. This has emboldened terrorists to fortify their positions and led to the spread of the threat of terrorism across the Syrian territory,” the statement added, referring to the Russian city where the truce deal was agreed upon.

Under the Sochi agreement, all militants in the demilitarized zone that surrounds Idlib and also parts of the provinces of Aleppo and Hama were supposed to pull out heavy arms by October 17 last year, and Takfiri groups had to withdraw two days earlier.

The National Front for the Liberation of Syria is the main Turkish-backed militant alliance in Idlib region, but the Takfiri Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group, which is a coalition of different factions of terror outfits largely composed of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, holds a large part of the province and the zone.

The HTS, which is said to be in control of some 60 percent of Idlib, has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.

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