DAMASCUS (Dispatches) — Syria’s military announced on Monday that its troops have regained control of territories in northwestern Syria "in record time,” vowing to continue to chase armed terrorists "wherever they are.”
The announcement came hours after troops consolidated their hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in a single day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of terrorists’ fire.
Troops were removing barriers and roadblocks on Monday in villages and districts that were earlier controlled by foreign-backed terrorists, state TV reported. The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group based in London, reported clashes in Jabal Sheik Akeel, northwest of the city of Aleppo, the provincial capital.
President Bashar al-Assad congratulated his forces Monday for consolidating control over the entire province of Aleppo in northern Syria, pledging to press ahead with a military campaign to achieve complete victory "sooner or later.”
Assad, who rarely appears in public, pledged in a televised address that the onetime economic hub of Aleppo, the provincial capital, will "return stronger than it was before.”
"This liberation does not mean the end of the war, and does not mean the end of the schemes nor the end of terrorism or the surrender of enemies,” Assad said. "But it means that we rubbed their noses in the dirt as a prelude for complete victory and ahead of their defeat, sooner or later.”
Assad said, "We should not rest, but continue to prepare for coming of battles, and therefore the battle of liberating Aleppo countryside and Idlib will continue, despite the empty noise that is coming from the north (Turkey).”
"Our beloved people of Aleppo, I congratulate you for the victory. ... With it we will fight the bigger battle, the reconstruction of Aleppo and with the will of Syrians we will rebuild all of Syria and we will continue liberation, God willing,” said Assad, seated behind an empty wooden desk and wearing glasses.
Terrorists were driven out of Aleppo’s eastern quarters in late 2016, which they had controlled for years while battling government forces in charge in the western section. However, terrorist groups continued to target government forces from outside the city with mortar rounds. They also controlled large parts of western rural Aleppo, territories that linked them to Idlib province, the terrorists’ last major stronghold.
The new advances, along with securing a key highway that ran through terrorist-held territory, are set to facilitate movement between northern and southern Syria, including the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial center before the war.
The Shaam Network, a militant media platform, said the advances cut the terrorists’ supply line, effectively driving them out of the area.
The developments sparked late night celebrations in the city, with state media showing images of residents waving flags and dancing in the streets packed with vehicles.
Syrian media said the airport in Aleppo will reopen to civilian flights this week for the first time since the war forced its closure in 2012. "Aleppo International Airport has resumed operations,” Transport Minister Ali Hammoud said.
The news agency added that the first flight from Damascus to
Aleppo is scheduled to take off on Wednesday, followed by more flights to Cairo and Damascus in coming days.
Since December, Syrian troops have been on the offensive, biting bit by bit at the terrorist-held enclave.
Gen. Ali Mayhoub, spokesman for the Syrian Armed Forces, said in a televised speech that Syrian troops were continuing their ground advances to "eradicate what is left of terrorist groups” in Syria, congratulating the soldiers for the swift advances in "record time.”
The terrorists are now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive, as well as the sliver of adjacent territory in western Aleppo. Also, parts of northern Aleppo region, which straddles the border with Turkey, are occupied by Turkey and its proxies.
Another segment of the province further west is controlled by Kurdish militants, allied with the United States. Those two parts have not been part of the government offensive.
Turkey, which backs anti-government militants, has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the terrorist-held enclave, in an attempt to stall the Syrian government’s advance.
Support from Russia and Iran has enabled Syrian troops to regain control of much of the territories they had lost to armed terrorists who worked to topple Assad.
On Monday, Syrian government forces shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants flying close to a major refinery in the country’s central province of Homs.
Official news agency SANA said a Syrian army unit shot down the explosive-laden drone as it was about to target Homs refinery, one of Syria’s two main plants covering most domestic demand for diesel, heating fuel, gasoline and other products.
The development came only a day after Syrian government forces used a spoofing technique to hack the controls of five combat drones, commandeer them and bring down the aircraft. The drones were to target the same refinery.
Earlier this month, Syrian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ghanem said Takfiri militants had launched drone strikes against Al-Rayyan gas field, the Ebla gas plant, the South Central region gas factory and Homs refinery.
The Ebla gas plant provides local power plants with approximately 2.5 million cubic meters of gas per day.