Syrian govt defends Idlib campaign, condemns France


Syria's state media say government forces and their allies are approaching a sprawling rebel-held air base in the northwestern province of Idlib from different directions.

It added that the rebels had used Turkish vehicles.

Russia-backed government forces on Wednesday battled their way into the Abu Duhur military airport as they pressed a weeks-long battle in the last province beyond their control.

France said on Wednesday it was extremely concerned by the government offensive in Idlib, the biggest remaining chunk of Syria still held by anti-government rebels, and demanded that commitments made to reduce hostilities there be respected.

"The operation is to hit the belly of the regime deep into liberated territories and to encircle their advancing forces", said Abdul Hakim al Rahamon, a senior official in Jaish al Nasr, an FSA faction taking part.

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The airport, which straddles the border between the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, has been under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since September 2015. "We have killed many".

In May previous year, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement to set up de-escalation centres in Syria.

Many Syrians living in rebel-held areas see Turkey's military intervention as a bulwark against a relentless bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian airforces they blame for killing and injuring hundreds of civilians in urban areas in recent months, away from the frontlines.

In a statement from the Syrian presidency Thursday, Assad said the "major victories of the army in cooperation with Russian Federation and its other allies... have strengthened efforts for a peaceful solution" to the conflict.

Syrian regime forces faced fierce resistance from jihadists Thursday as they fought to capture a key airbase in Idlib, the last province beyond the government's control, a war monitor said.