AMMAN - Russian jets stepped up strikes on several towns in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and rural Aleppo two days after the evacuation of rebels from their last pocket in the northern city of Aleppo, rebels and residents said on Saturday.

They said at least eight strikes targeted Binish, Saraqeb and Jisr al Shaqour - main towns in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. There were reports of several casualties, mainly among civilians. Idlib province for months has been a target of Russia’s heavy bombing campaign against rebel-held areas. It came even while the former eastern part of Aleppo under insurgent control faced an escalation in aerial raids and shelling until its defences collapsed and the rebels were forced to agree to an evacuation deal.

The Syrian army has hinted the next major campaign after its victory in Aleppo was to rout insurgents in their stronghold of Idlib province, where mainly Islamist brigades operating under a coalition known as Jaish al Fateh are in control. Residents and rebels said Russian and Syrian jets also staged heavy strikes on rebel-held parts of western and southern parts of rural Aleppo for the second day since the last rebels left their remaining pocket of territory in Aleppo city.

They raided the town of Khan al Asal, about 14 km (9 miles) west of Aleppo, with cluster bombs while several strikes hit Hreitan and Andan, according to a rebel fighter from Jaish al Mujahdeen. The nearby town of Atareb was also hit. Although the Syrian army, with the help of Iranian-backed militias, was able to take full control of Aleppo city after Russia conducted hundreds of raids that pulverised rebel-held parts, large swathes of western and southern Aleppo countryside remain in rebel hands.

Rebels said they repelled an Iranian-backed militia assault on Saturday to gain ground in the Rashideen area, west of Aleppo city. The Syrian army continued to comb areas in eastern Aleppo that fell under its control on Thursday. The Lebanese Hizbollah- run military news service said weapons caches left by insurgents exploded, causing two deaths and wounding scores.


Inset second lead Putin, Rouhani welcome Aleppo ‘victory’


TEHRAN - Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin welcomed the “Syrian army’s victory against the terrorists in Aleppo” during a late-night phone call, Iranian media reported on Sunday.

“The Syrian army’s victory sends a message that the terrorists cannot achieve their objectives. We must stop terrorists using the ceasefire to rebuild their forces and create new bases in other regions of Syria,” Rouhani said following the call on Saturday night, according to a statement published by state media.

Putin also welcomed the defeat of rebel forces in Syria’s second city and said cooperation between Tehran and Moscow “will continue”. They said peace talks would take place in Kazakhstan, without providing further details.

Iran and Russia have been the key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and label all rebel forces in the country as “terrorists”. “The result of this cooperation is a major victory in the fight against international terrorism,” added Putin.