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Syrian Government Forces Continue to Surround Rebel-Held Idlib Enclave


This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reports, shows White Helmet civil defense workers after an explosion in north Syria, Aug. 12, 2018.

An explosion at a fuel depot and electrical generation plant has left dozens of casualties Monday in the Syrian rebel-held town of Maarat al-Numan. The explosion came as rescue workers in the rebel-held town of Sarmada continued to pull bodies from the rubble after an explosion there Saturday left more than 60 people dead.


Amateur video showed frightened residents cowering behind buildings as a massive explosion and fireball rocked the skyline over the Syrian opposition held town of Maarat al-Numan.

It was not clear what set off the explosion that left dozens of casualties Monday.

Arab media reported a makeshift generator that provides electricity to parts of the town exploded, before setting off a secondary explosion in a nearby fuel depot, which caused the giant fireball.

Meanwhile, members of the Syrian volunteer force, the White Helmets, continued to dig through the rubble of a six-story building flattened by the explosion of a basement weapons depot Saturday in Sarmada. Dozens of people were killed and many more bodies are thought to be buried under the ruins.

Destroyed buildings are seen, Aug. 12, 2018, following an explosion at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria's northern Idlib province city of Sarmada.
Destroyed buildings are seen, Aug. 12, 2018, following an explosion at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria's northern Idlib province city of Sarmada.

Syria analyst Joshua Landis, who heads the Middle East program at the University of Oklahoma, says it is not clear who is behind the in-fighting between various rebel factions in Idlib province, including assassinations, car-bomb attacks or explosions that have racked the area in recent months.

"There have been a lot of assassinations of top [Hayat al Tahrir al -Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra] people in the last six months and we do not know who or what is driving that assassination campaign... whether it is just purely inter-militia back-stabbing, fight for control, or whether Turkey has urged its proxies to get rid of these guys and to weaken the more jihadist elements. Is it the Syrian government? Finger-pointing is all over the place, that it is ISIS-driven, that it is Turkish-driven, that it is Syrian-driven. We do not really know," he said.

FILE - Syrians gather at a site of car bomb in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Aug. 2, 2018.
FILE - Syrians gather at a site of car bomb in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Aug. 2, 2018.

Syria's government continues to move reinforcements to the area around rebel-held Idlib province for what appears to be the final battle for control of the region. Arab media noted all parties in the conflict were eyeing diplomatic talks Monday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Military analyst Ali Maqsoud told Syrian state TV that the battle for Idlib "will be different from the rest of the battles," claiming the "large concentration of [pro-government] reinforcements is prepared for the worst case scenario of having to defeat the worst of the worst terrorists in the country."

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