Syrian troops reach gates of key rebel-held air base

The Associated Press BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian pro-government forces reached a sprawling air base controlled by rebels since 2015 on Wednesday, the target of a wide-ranging offensive in the northwestern Idlib Province.

Recapturing the Abu Zuhour air base has been one of the main goals of the government offensive launched in late October. The operations also aim to secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops were engaged in fierce fighting with al-Qaida-linked militants and other insurgents just outside Abu Zuhour.

The government offensive in the region has displaced tens of thousands of people, who have fled toward areas close to the Turkish border.

The push into Idlib Province, the largest remaining territory held by rebels in Syria, is the deepest by the government since it lost much of the area three years ago. The province is covered by a de-escalation agreement reached last year between Russia and Iran, which back President Bashar Assad, and Turkey, which supports the opposition.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed “grave concern” over the situation in Idlib, which is home to more than 2.6 million Syrians, including more than 1.1 million who fled fighting elsewhere in the country.

Zeid also condemned the upsurge in civilian casualties in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta, stressing that all parties are obliged under international law to distinguish between lawful military targets and civilians.

On Wednesday, more than two dozen people were killed in the government bombardment of eastern Ghouta and rebel shelling of the capital itself.

Zeid said at least 85 civilians, including 21 women and 30 children, have been killed and at least 183 wounded in eastern Ghouta since Dec. 31.Speech

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