Syrian regime troops entered a strategic town in the country’s last rebel stronghold on Thursday after fierce clashes with opposition fighters, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.
The push by Bashar al-Assad’s forces into towns and villages in northwestern Idlib province has caused the displacement of more than a half million people in just over two months, compounding a humanitarian disaster in a region filled with internally displaced people.
It has also angered Turkey and risks a military confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops.
The town of Saraqeb, near the Turkish border, has been at the center of intense fighting for days. Opposition fighters pushed out the regime’s forces who entered it on Wednesday, while Turkey sent in new reinforcements on Thursday and threatened to use force to compel the Syrian forces to retreat by the end of the month.
The town sits at the intersection of two major highways, one to the capital of Damascus to the north and the other connecting the country’s west and east.
The regime forces had earlier besieged the town, and at least four Turkish military posts set up to protect Saraqeb against the advance were also left within territory under the regime’s control.
The Syrian offensive to retake the rebel-held areas in the northwest has led to a humanitarian crisis, with more than 580,000 civilians fleeing their homes since the beginning of December, according to the UN. Many of them have sought safety in areas close to the border with Turkey. At least 53 health facilities have suspended work in the area, according to the World Health Organization.
Idlib province is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria in earlier bouts of violence.