Smoke plumes billow following the bombardment in Idlib, Syria, May 24, 2019. (Photo: CGTN)
Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian rebels it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major assault, senior opposition officials and rebel sources said on Saturday.
The Syrian army launched a large aerial and ground assault as it sought to gain control of the last big stretch of rebel-held territory in the northwest of the country last month.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said rebels had breached an existing ceasefire, triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas. It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and his enemies in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after Turkey and Russia failed to reach an agreement, ending the escalation and averting a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey.
The two countries held a meeting last month, in which Turkish President Erdogan, on his part, said Russia and Turkey can "change the destiny of the whole region" together.
Following that, Russian army Sunday declared President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian forces had ceased fire "unilaterally" in a northwestern rebel bastion, but Turkey denied, accusing on its Defense Ministry's website that Syrian government forces violated the ceasefire agreement reached with Russia for Idlib Last September.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived at a base in northern Hama near rebel-held Jabal al-Zawiya, where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks, a rebel and a witness said.
The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and so-called TOW missiles, helped roll back some Syrian army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda, one senior opposition figure said.
The TOW missile had been the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling Assad during the conflict. Western and Arab foes of Assad extended it until a CIA-led program of military support to help moderate rebels was suspended in 2017.
A Western intelligence source said Washington had given a "green light" for the Turkey-backed mainstream rebels to use the TOW missiles, which had been in storage in the latest campaign.
A spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), Captain Naji Mustafa, did not confirm or deny any new supplies by Turkey, saying rebels had long had a big arsenal of weapons from anti-tank to armored vehicles "alongside material and logistical support by our Turkish brothers."