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Syrian government 'loses ground' to Nusra Front and ISIL

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Syrian government 'loses ground' to Nusra Front and ISIL


The Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a desperate battle against insurgents from different groups.

Damascus has suffered a series of setbacks against the so-called Islamic State, which in taking Palmyra and the surrounding area has seized government buildings, gas fields and border crossings with Iraq.

To the northwest, insurgents on Friday seized a hospital from Syrian government forces who had been besieged there since late April, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, another gain by rebels who have dealt a series of blows to President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian state TV said soldiers holed up in the Jisr al-Shughour hospital in Idlib province had been freed, saying they had managed to “break the siege” in an operation coordinated with air strikes and artillery bombardment.

The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, an insurgent group involved in the offensive, said government forces had fled. “The Mujahideen are pursuing them,” a Twitter feed affiliated to the group reported.

The area is strategically important for its proximity to the Mediterranean.

The losses in the northwest have been compounded by dramatic advances by the Islamic State jihadist group into government-held areas of central Syria. The group seized the ancient city of Palmyra, or Tadmur, on Wednesday.

It has also taken control the last government-held border crossing with Iraq, after Syrian security forces withdrew.

The fall of Ramadi is potentially devastating to the Iraqi government. It is the capital of the vast Anbar province, which stretches to Iraq’s western border with Jordan and Syria.

Palmyra, or Tadmur in Arabic, is a world heritage site the jihadists might now destroy, as they did the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud this year.

It has great strategic and symbolic value for ISIL, with nearby gas fields, and roads to the capital Damascus, Homs, the cradle of the revolt against Assad in Syria’s centre, and to the south.

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