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Syrian govt. forces recapture key northwestern city from Turkish-backed militants

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)
This video grab taken on March 2, 2020 shows Syrian government forces and their allies in the strategic city of Saraqib in the southeastern countryside of the country’s northwestern Idlib province. (Photo by SANA)

Syrian government forces have managed to retake a strategic city in the southeastern suburbs of the country’s northwestern province of Idlib from Turkish-backed militants.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Monday that Syrian army soldiers and their allies have entered the city of Saraqib after violent clashes with the extremists and severely hitting their positions and fortified lines.

Battles are still taking place on the outskirts of the city as the Turkish-backed militants are trying to re-enter the area.

Saraqib has a strategic significance as it overlooks the 450-kilometer-long M5 highway.

The M5 highway starts in southern Syria, near the border with Jordan, and runs all the way north to the city of Aleppo near the Turkish border. 

Since 2012, the M5 had been controlled by various foreign-backed militant groups. Syrian government forces started regaining parts of the highway in 2014, but they were only able to take full control during the latest offensive. 

Syrian army troops and their allies established control over the highway on February 10 after dealing heavy blows to Takfiris south and west of Aleppo.

The Damascus government began road repair shortly afterwards, and the Syrian Ministry of Transport announced on February 22 that the highway was officially open to traffic and “at the full disposal of citizens.”

Russia says its military police in Syria's Saraqib

After Syrian forces entered the strategic city of Saraqib, Russia's Defense Ministry announced that its military police had also entered the city "due to its importance for security."

The ministry’s statement added that the deployment was made to ensure security on the M4 and M5 highways, which connect the cities of Latakia, Damascus, and Aleppo.

Israel targets civilian vehicle in occupied Golan Heights

Separately, Israeli military forces fired a missile at a civilian car traveling along a road in Syria’s southwestern province of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights.

SANA reported that the strike took place in the town of Ayn al-Tinah, but no immediate word on casualties in the attack was available.

The Israeli army claimed in a statement that military forces “identified an attempted sniper attack in [the] northern Golan Heights and acted to thwart it, striking the vehicle involved in the attempt.”

On February 27, one person was killed in an Israeli drone attack in Quneitra province.

“A civilian was martyred when his car was targeted by a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy south of the town of Hader,” SANA reported.

SANA noted that the victim was traveling in his car along a road in Hader village on Thursday, when the Israeli drone fired a missile, killing him on the spot.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the victim was a member of the "Syrian resistance to liberate Golan," without elaborating.

Quneitra Governor Humam Dibyat identified the person as Adel Tawil and said he worked at a police station and was targeted while returning home from work.

“He was innocent. He was an honorable nationalist,” Dibyat was quoted as saying by The Associated Press news agency.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after the 1967 Six-Day War and later occupied it in a move that has never been recognized by the international community. 

The regime has built dozens of settlements in the area ever since and has used the region to carry out a number of military operations against the Syrian government.

On March 25 last year, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation, formally recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The announcement came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House.

The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, in a statement at the time, called the US decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.

“The liberation of the Golan by all available means and its return to the Syrian motherland is an inalienable right,” according to the statement carried by SANA, which added, “The decision ... makes the United States the main enemy of the Arabs.”

The Arab League also condemned the move, saying "Trump's recognition does not change the area's status."

Iran, Iraq, Russia and Turkey condemned the US move as well.

Turkish drone attack kills 19 Syrian army soldiers in Idlib

Meanwhile, at least 19 Syrian army soldiers were killed on Sunday night by Turkish drone attacks in Idlib province.

The Observatory said the Turkish drones targeted Syrian army positions in Jabal al-Zawiyeh area and al-Hamdiyeh camp in the northwestern Syrian province.

Earlier in the day, SANA said Syrian forces had shot down three Turkish drones over Idlib.

The incidents are part of the serious escalation between Turkey and Syria.

The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement on Friday that Turkey is supporting terrorist groups in Idlib.

The ministry dismissed allegations by Turkish and Western media outlets regarding losses upon Syrian government forces in Saraqib, noting that such claims are meant to uplift the morale of terror groups operating in the area and clearly show that Turkish forces are fighting alongside terrorist groups and that Ankara has no respect for its commitments under the Sochi agreement.

Under the deal, 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, 2018, with the Takfiri groups having to withdraw two days earlier.

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