SYRIAN government troops won back two villages from the new al-Qaida-led alliance in northern Hama province yesterday.
The force recaptured Khattab and Rahbeh five miles northwest of the provincial capital.
The small reversal of the offensive by up to 6,000 Hayat Tahrir as-Sham (Hetesh) extremists brought some relief to the city of Hama.
But religious minorities in nearby towns feared the sectarian wrath of the Salafists.
Lebanon’s al-Masdar News said it had received reports that some 30 civilians of the Alawite sect had been massacred in the village of Majdal to the west on Tuesday, following its recent fall to the jihadists.
And the predominantly Christian town of Mahardah to its north was surrounded on three sides.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to warn Moscow over the killing of a soldier at a border post by a sniper from the Kurdish YPG militia.
The YPG said it had acted in self-defence after Turkey shelled the Afrin canton north of Aleppo, killing four people and destroying homes.
On Sunday, the YPG struck a deal directly with Moscow to allow Russian troops to be stationed in the area — as they have been in Manbij to the east — as a buffer to Turkish forces’ aggression.
South of Afrin, the Isis death cult reportedly abandoned the town of Deir Hafer, heeding an ultimatum from the encircling Syrian army.
Troops continued to push west from there towards the Jirah air base, the next Isis stronghold.