Fierce fighting between the Syrian regime forces and opposition forces is taking place in Khan Sheikhoun, as the Syrian army closes in on the strategic town in the Greater Idlib region.
Khan Sheikhoun is regarded as the most populous in the south of Idlib Province. It is located on the Damascus-Aleppo M5 highway, making it an extremely strategic town. It is also on the way to one of the most prominent rebel strongholds: Maarat al-Numan, just north of the town. Thus, the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) offensive on Khan Sheikhoun marks a significant juncture in the regime-rebel conflict that has been active for a number of months in the north of Syria despite the Russian-Turkish brokered de-escalation agreement that was agreed upon almost a year ago.
Much of the western side of Khan Sheikhoun has been taken over by the regime’s forces. Last week saw the capture of Morek, a town to the west of Khan Sheikhoun, which allowed for the offensive against the latter to make progress. The regime’s forces are also attempting to advance towards Khan Sheikhoun from the eastern side, thus surrounding the town and what is left of rebel-held territories in the south of Idlib Province and north of the bordering Hama Province.
The most recent progress recorded by the regime’s forces is the capture of the Nimr Hill, as well as the nearby areas of Syriatel Hill, Horsh al-Khan and Wadi al-Fateh.
The recent escalation has come amidst the further deployment of the Turkish-backed forces to the Greater Idlib Region, including forces from the Syrian National Army (SNA) based further north. This has increased military tensions, adding further fuel to the conflict in Idlib.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the escalation has killed more than 860 civilians, more than 1,370 opposition fighters, and more than 1,200 regime forces and supporting militants. The effectiveness of the de-escalation agreement in Idlib began to deteriorate in April as the SAA and its allied Russian forces conducted intermittent air raids on rebel-held positions.