Syrian army fights al-Qaida-linked militants on key fronts

Li Jiayao

DAMASCUS, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian government forces have been fighting the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC) on key fronts in southern and northwestern Syria, just as the Islamic State (IS) militants have lost all of their strongholds in Syria.

The LLC, otherwise known as the Nusra Front, has a big presence in the northwestern province of Idlib and in the eastern countryside of the capital Damascus, in a region called the Eastern Ghouta.

The LLC has suffered a big defeat in the western countryside of Damascus recently, losing their last stronghold in the town of Beit Jin, following a series of victories by the Syrian army in that region near the Lebanese border.

Following their withdrawal from Beit Jin toward Idlib late last month after a humiliating defeat in the surrounding areas, the LLC in the Eastern Ghouta unleashed a battle against the Vehicle Management base, a key military facility in the city of Harasta.

The violent attack led to besieging the facility and the killing of many soldiers inside. The offensive triggered a counter-offensive by the Syrian army, which has been pounding the LLC positions in the surrounding of the base for over a week.

On Sunday night, the government forces made a breach in the siege, succeeding to enter the facility.

Wounded soldiers have been evacuated and supplies have been delivered to the base.

However, the battles haven't stopped as the LLC and allied militant groups, including the Failaq al-Rahman group, kept up the momentum of their offensive in order to restore the siege on that strategic base.

With the battles kept raging on, the rebels in the Eastern Ghouta rained down the residential areas in Damascus with tens of mortar shells, killing five people on Tuesday and wounding over 30 others, some are in critical conditions.

Also, Syrian airstrikes pounded the rebel positions in Eastern Ghouta, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting the killing and wounding of 45 civilians.

The intense military showdown near the capital and the intensified mortar shelling have swept away the calm that had prevailed the capital in recent months.

The topic of mortar shells and fear of getting hit by one of those blind rockets returned to be the talk of the people.

In the north, the Syrian army has been making strides in the battles against the LLC in the northern countryside of Hama province in central Syria and the nearby southern countryside of Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

The army is gaining more towns on daily basis, with activists saying tens of towns have fallen to the army in both countrysides.

Earlier in the day, the Syrian government forces have come to within eight kilometers of the Abu al-Duhur air base in the southern countryside of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The London-based watchdog group said the two-week-long shelling and airstrikes by the Syrian forces and their Russian allies have resulted in the displacement of 150,000 civilians.

Meanwhile, the War Media, the media wing of the Syrian army, said the Syrian forces are targeting the positions of the LLC in the vicinity of Abu al-Duhur air base.

The report added that the Syrian forces captured several towns on Tuesday after battles with the LLC and allied militant groups in southern Idlib.

The Syrian army is eyeing the recapture of Abu al-Duhur due to the strategic importance of that facility and its crucial role in launching further offensives against the LLC and likeminded groups in Idlib.

Idlib has emerged as the main destination of the rebel groups, which have evacuated several positions across Syria after surrendering to the Syrian army.

The area has become a home to several rebel groups from different affiliations, some of which are supported by Turkey, while others, such as the LLC, are designated as terrorist groups.

The LLC has returned to the surface after the near-defeat of the IS militants in their key strongholds late last year.

The focus of the Syrian army seems to have shifted to defeating the LLC, as this group controls key areas near Damascus and much of Idlib.

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