Victory Army closes in on Ariha

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The Syrian army battled on Wednesday for one of its last outposts in Idlib province after the rebel Victory Army captured a checkpoint overlooking nearby Ariha. The checkpoint’s capture on Tuesday “is a step on the path to taking control of Ariha,” Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz, spokesman for Ahrar a-Sham in Idlib, told Syria Direct Wednesday. Only the al-Juma checkpoint remains before rebels are at the northern gates of the city, he added. Rebels dug a 700-meter long, 25-meter wide tunnel under the al-Fanar checkpoint, filling the tunnel with tons of locally-produced explosives and detonating it on Tuesday, a rebel was quoted by pro-opposition Orient News as saying. Pro-regime news outlet al-Bina confirmed that rebels captured the checkpoint, and reported Tuesday that “the Syrian army has begun a counter-attack to regain al-Fanar.” Remaining regime-controlled areas in Idlib province include Ariha and neighboring Jabal al-Arbain, the al-Mastuma base, the Shiite-majority towns of Fuaa and Kafariya, and the Abu A-Dhuhur airbase, encircled by rebels for more than two years.