Syrian government breaches ceasefire, al-Qaeda linked group expanding,

DAMASCUS, Ramadan al-Fatash and Khalil Hamlo (dpa)- The al-Qaeda-linked militia Haya’t Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on Sunday took control of the city of Idlib in northern Syria from rebel fighters, a Syrian watchdog said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Ahrar al-Sham opposition group had withdrawn from the city and headed south.

The extremist militia drove the rebels out of the city’s administrative complexes and took control over checkpoints inside and around the city.
Ahrar al-Sham has held control over many areas in Idlib since a mass operation in 2015. Sources in the Syrian opposition told dpa that HTS militants currently control the electricity company.
“Ahrar al-Sham fighters withdrew from Bab al-Hawa border crossing in southern Idlib as part of an agreement with HTS,” a leader at the al-Qaeda linked group said.
In the meantime at least 13 jihadists were killed and dozens injured in a car-bomb explosion that targeted an HTS gathering in downtown Idlib, the group's spokesperson reported.
Idlib is mainly controlled by Islamist rebels and has seen several battles between armed groups.
Earlier on Sunday, Syrian government warplanes bombarded a rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus a day after a ceasefire was announced there as part of a de-escalation deal, according to the Observatory.
It said that six air raids had targeted the rebel towns of Douma and Ein Tarma in the region of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.
There was material damage but no casualties, the group said.
Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, announced on Saturday that an agreement was reached with rebels in Eastern Ghouta, designating it as a safe zone.
Later Saturday, the Syrian army said that it had halted combat operations in the area, which has seen fierce battles between government forces and rebels in recent weeks.
The deal reached between the Russian military and Syrian rebels provides for a ceasefire in the area, allowing food and humanitarian aid to be brought in and the sick and wounded to be evacuated for treatment elsewhere, according to the Observatory.

Monday, July 24th 2017
Ramadan al-Fatash and Khalil Hamlo (dpa)

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