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The Syrian and Russian militaries have dealt a heavy blow to al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib.
On September 8, more than a dozen Syrian and Russian strikes hit key positions of the terrorist group near the towns of Hafsarjah, Sheikh Yousef, Sijer and Ghafar, which are located in the al-Rug Plain in the western Idlib countryside.
Su-24M and Su-34 fighter bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces took part in the large-scale attack, while the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) used OTR-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles.
The pinpoint strikes destroyed several headquarters belonging to HTS, as well as a large camp of the group where foreign experts were training terrorists on operating makeshift suicide drones.
The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria revealed that 120 terrorists, including 20 drone experts and high-ranking members of HTS, were killed in the joint strikes. One of the slain terrorists was reportedly Sirajuddin Mukhtarov, the former commander of HTS’s main Uzbek faction Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, who is also known as Abu Salah al-Uzbeki.
The joint strikes also destroyed dozens of makeshift suicide drones and several command and control vehicles. HTS has been using such drones to attack Syrian military positions and Russian bases for more than four years.
On September 9, HTS responded to the deadly Syrian and Russian strikes by shelling two camps belonging to the SAA. The terrorist group fired rockets at the Jurin camp in the northwestern countryside of Hama and at another camp located near the town of Slanfah in the northern Lattakia countryside. However, the rockets landed in nearby residential areas. Only one single civilian was wounded as a result of the attacks.
Later on September 11, HTS received a new blow when one of its large depots in the al-Rug Plain blew up. The terrorist group was reportedly storing fuel and ammunition at the depot, which is located in the area of Tell Dweir. One of the depot guards was killed, while another was wounded.
The location and timing of the Tell Dweir explosion suggests that it was either the result of an act of sabotage, or a pinpoint strike.
The Syrian and Russian strikes on Greater Idlib were a direct response to recent violations of the ceasefire in Greater Idlib, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey on 5 March 2020. HTS didn’t only violate the ceasefire by launching attacks from the region, but also by attempting to develop its offensive capabilities. The terrorist group’s drone program is a threat to peace and security not only in Syria, but in the entire Middle East.