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Amid rising Turkey-Russia tensions, Syrian military establishes first full control of strategic highway since 2012

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on 11 February that, for the first time since 2012, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had established full control over the entire length of the strategic M5 highway, which runs from Aleppo in the north to Deraa in the south, via Hama, Homs, and the capital Damascus. The move followed the SAA’s capturing of a western suburb of Aleppo from unspecified insurgents the day before.

Offensive progressing rapidly

While fighting continues in the region, securing the M5 highway represents a significant milestone in President Bashar al-Assad’s nine-year campaign to restore full government control over Syria’s territory, and was the core goal of a major new Russian and Iranian-backed military offensive launched on 24 January. Since then, advancing on two fronts, from the south in Idlib governorate and the northeast in Aleppo governorate, pro-government forces have made rapid progress. On 9 February, the Syrian Ministry of Defence reported that 600 sq km of territory had been recaptured, including “dozens of villages and locations” in south Idlib and west Aleppo.

Notably, following an intensive bombardment by Russian warplanes, pro-government forces captured the city of Maarat al-Numan, located on the M5 approximately 30 km south of militant-held Idlib city, from militant Islamist coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on 28 January. The fall of the city was highly symbolic, as it was one of the original centres of protest against Assad’s rule in 2011 and had been under militant control since 2012.

Syrian Arab Army recaptures strategic M5 highway from jihadist and allied rebels (Getty Images)

Syrian Arab Army recaptures strategic M5 highway from jihadist and allied rebels (Getty Images)

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