DAMASCUS (Dispatches) – Syrian government forces made new gains in northwestern Syria on Friday, further chipping away at the country’s last major terrorist pocket, a war monitor said.
Syrian government and allied forces, which have kept up a blistering assault on the Idlib region since December, are now securing areas along a key highway they seized from Takfiri terrorists and their allies this week.
On Friday, they pushed west of the M5 motorway which connects Syria’s four largest cities and is economically vital for the government, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In an attempt to consolidate a "security belt” around the road, they seized a key base on Friday that they had lost to terrorists in 2012, the Britain-based monitor said.
Located 12 kilometers (seven miles) west of Aleppo city, Base 46 was the site of a brutal confrontation between government forces and terrorists in the early phase of Syria’s war.
Its recapture marks a symbolic win for the government which has reduced the terrorist-held pocket to just over half of Idlib province, as well as slivers of neighboring Aleppo and Latakia.
The advances have alarmed supporters of terrorists, including the U.S., Turkey and the occupying regime of Israel.
Ankara, which has troops illegally deployed in several locations in northern Syria, continues to support militant groups battling government troops or acting as proxies against Kurdish forces.
It has sent reinforcements to the northwest in recent weeks to contain the latest push by Damascus, leading to a series of tit-for-tat exchanges between their forces.
The deadly clashes, the latest of which saw government shelling kill five Turkish troops this week, are the most serious since Ankara first sent forces to Syria in 2016.
Base 46 was among the positions where Turkish troops have recently deployed but they pulled out of the area late Thursday, making way for the government takeover, the Observatory said.
With Base 46 recaptured, government forces are now within two kilometers (little more than a mile) of the town of Urum al-Kubra and five kilometers (three miles) from the deserted town of Atareb, according to the monitor.
A Syrian military helicopter was shot down on Friday, killing its entire crew, state media said, in the second such incident this week.
"At approximately 13:40 (1140 GMT), one of our military helicopters was hit by a hostile missile in the western countryside of Aleppo,” SANA said.
Idlib is dominated by Takfiri terrorists of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance and their allies.
SANA said the aircraft was downed near the town of Urum al-Kubra, where Turkey-backed militants operate, but did not say who was behind the attack.
The Observatory pinned it on Turkey, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. The monitor said two pilots were killed.
The incident came just three days after another Syrian military helicopter was downed over Idlib province, killing at least three crew members.
Turkish media blamed the attacks on militants but the Observatory said Turkish troops had fired rockets at the aircraft over the village of Qaminas, southeast of Idlib city. Israeli strikes on Damascus airport killed seven people, the war monitor said Friday, the latest in a string of Zionist attacks targeting Syria.
Syrian state media said only that its air defenses intercepted missiles over the capital overnight.
The occupying regime of Israel routinely fires missiles at what it says are Iranian targets in Syria, but they always take Syrian lives.