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Syria Rebels Leave Area Ahead of Troops08/20 06:11

   BEIRUT (AP) -- The main insurgent group in the Syrian province of Idlib 
pulled out of a key rebel town as government forces advanced in the area on 
Tuesday amid intense bombardment and airstrikes, a militant group and 
opposition activists said.

   According to a statement from Syria's main al-Qaida-linked faction, the 
group made "a redeployment," with its fighters withdrawing to areas south of 
the town of Khan Sheikhoun. From there, they would continue to defend the 
territory, it said.

   The withdrawal is a significant loss for the opposition in its last major 
stronghold of Idlib, in northwestern Syria. Syrian government forces have been 
on the offensive in Idlib and northern parts of Hama province since April 30, 
forcing nearly half a million people to flee to safer areas further north. The 
fighting also killed more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of civilians.

   Backed by Russian air power, Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces were 
able to enter parts of the town overnight, according to opposition activists. 
Syrian troops are now clearing the area abandoned by militants of explosives 
and booby-traps, activists said.

   "After fierce bombardment by the criminal enemy that avoids direct 
confrontation with holy warriors by implementing a scorched earth policy, our 
fighters have redeployed south of Khan Sheihoun," the statement said.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war 
monitor, said the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other insurgent 
groups withdrew from Khan Sheikhoun as well as all the towns and villages south 
of the town.

   According to the Observatory, Khan Sheikhoun was home to about 1 million 
people, nearly 700,000 of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the 
country, before the government offensive began in April. In recent days 
hundreds of civilians remained in the town according to the group that tracks 
Syria's war, now in its ninth year.

   Khan Sheikhoun was a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked militant faction, the 
most powerful group in rebel-held areas in Syria. The town was also the scene 
of a chemical attack on April 4, 2017 that killed 89 people.


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