Sun, Apr 26, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Al-Qaeda affiliate takes key Syrian city

AL-NUSRA FRONT:The UN special envoy to Syria acknowledged the difficulties facing him, saying the chances of a political solution ‘are no better now than six months ago’

AFP, BEIRUT and UNITED NATIONS

Fighters of Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and its allies yesterday overran the last major government-held city in the northwestern province of Idlib, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bodies of at least 60 government fighters were lying in the streets of Jisr al-Shughur following the rebel attack.

The Muslim militants launched their attack on the city on Thursday, seeking to capitalize on their capture of the provincial capital last month.

As well as being one of the regime’s last bastions in Idlib Province, Jisr al-Shughur’s capture also opens up a strategic assault route to the government stronghold of Latakia Province on the Mediterranean coast.

“Al-Nusra Front and the Islamist brigades ... took control of almost all the city,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman said. “Government forces fled.

“Thousands of rebel fighters are in the city. Clashes are continuing in some neighborhoods where soldiers are attempting to break out,” he added.

Syrian state television reported that “army units are engaged in fierce clashes in the city of Jisr al-Shughur and are strengthening their defensive positions in the surrounding area.”

State news agency SANA said “aircraft bombed groups of terrorists in the Jisr al-Shughur region, and destroyed dozens of military vehicles and killed terrorists.”

The Muslim militants hailed victory on their official Twitter account.

“The mujahidin have entered the city center. The city has been liberated,” al-Nusra said.

Meanwhile, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura on Friday said that he would know by the end of June if there is any appetite among the opposing sides to find a peaceful way out of the conflict.

During closed discussions with the 15-member UN Security Council, de Mistura acknowledged that the “odds and conditions for launching a political transition are no better now than six months ago,” diplomats at the briefing said.

The Damascus regime and opposition forces are not showing “much new willingness to negotiate” in the four-year war that has left 220,000 people dead, de Mistura said, according to diplomats.

However, the UN “remains convinced” about the need for a political solution and the envoy is set to hold separate consultations with the Syrian government, opposition groups and regional powers including Iran from next month to see if they are ready for negotiations.

The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has taken large areas of Syria in a brutal campaign, is not to be consulted.

“We cannot just wait, there is no excuse to wait ... despite the lack of progress we remain convinced that the only way to do so is a stress test, to test the willingness to narrow the gap [between the parties],” de Mistura told reporters. “By the end of June we will be in a position to reassess if there is any convergence on the issues of substance.”

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