Turkey-backed opposition forces recaptured the strategic town of Saraqib in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province Thursday, opposition officials said.
Earlier, the Syrian National Army (SNA) forces seized several villages around Saraqib, located on the strategic M5 highway, security sources told Daily Sabah late Wednesday.
Saraqib is on a strategic crossroad connecting the country’s two main highways, M4 and M5. The M4 motorway connects the port city of Latakia to the Iraqi border while the M5 forms the backbone of the country's highways, connecting economic hub Aleppo to central cities of Hama and Homs, the capital Damascus and to the Jordanian border further south.
The Bashar Assad regime seized Saraqib in a Russian-backed assault earlier this month.
The opposition forces backed by Turkey are continuing their advance with intense artillery cover fire, the sources added.
The Assad regime has been on the offensive since December to capture and reopen the M5 highway held by the opposition since 2012, despite a cease-fire deal brokered late last year between Russia and Turkey.
On Monday, the SNA captured the key village of Nairab amid advances in the southern parts of Idlib. The village is a strategic location near Saraqib and was initially captured by the Assad regime forces on Feb. 3.
A large Turkish military convoy entered the northwestern province of Idlib earlier on the same day.
The regime forces captured the key town of Maaret al-Numan from the opposition last Wednesday, and have now set their sights on the town of Saraqib. The strategic highway passes through both.
Idlib province is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria in earlier bouts of violence. The U.N. has estimated that 390,000 Syrians have been displaced there over the past two months – 315,000 in December and 75,000 in January.
Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and the current wave of violence in Idlib has raised concerns about a new surge in displaced civilians fleeing toward the Turkish border.