Syria says militant attack shut down gas pipeline

Meanwhile, a government offensive against Idlib remains in stalemate

TOPSHOT - Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) and civilians gather following a reported regime airstrike on the village of Kafriya, in Syria's Idlib province, on July 13, 2019.

Militants targeted a gas pipeline in government-controlled central Syria on Sunday, putting it out of order, state media reported.

SANA news agency did not identify the attackers. The area, in the central Homs province, is close to where remnants of ISIS are still holed up after losing their territory.

Technical teams are working to fix the pipeline, which links the Shaer gas fields to the Ebla processing plant. SANA did not elaborate on the extent of the damage or the nature of the attack.

The agency said the pipeline carries about 2.5 million cubic metres of gas to the processing plant and onward to power stations.

ISIS briefly seized the Shaer fields in 2014 and 2016 before pro-government forces recaptured them in heavy fighting. Today, much of Syria’s oil fields and infrastructure are held by US-backed and Kurdish-led forces in the east.

In recent weeks, ISIS militants have increased their attacks against government troops, putting up checkpoints and ambushing convoys. While the government now controls over 60 per cent of Syria, there is still a rebel stronghold in the northwest, where the government is waging a limited but stalled offensive.

Smaller armed groups in northern, central and eastern Syria have vowed to target government and Kurdish-controlled facilities.

In the north-east of Syria, a two-month campaign by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies remains stalemated, despite causing hundreds of civilian casualties and massive displacement.

Despite a heavy air campaign and ground assault against rebel-held Idlib province, the forces of President Bashar Al Assad have been unable to make significant advances against Al Qaeda-linked militants and other extremist groups.

Idlib is the last significant area held by opposition forces. Militant attacks have killed an average of more than a dozen soldiers and allied militiamen a day in recent weeks.

The faltering campaign underscores the limits of Syrian and Russian air power and their forces’ inability to achieve a definitive victory in the country’s long-running civil war, now in its eighth year.

With crucial military assistance from Russia and Iran, Syrian troops have in the past few years recovered most other opposition-held parts of the country with crushing offensives and long-running sieges. In each of those places, rebels either surrendered or were forcibly exiled to Idlib, where they are now cornered with nowhere left to go. Bitter and desperate, they can only fight to the end.

Abu Mohammed Al Golani, the leader of the main Al Qaeda-linked group in the province, has called on every able person to “perform his religious duty” and join the fight.