Fierce clashes between Russia-backed government forces and jihadists have left 83 combatants dead in northwestern Syria in the past 24 hours, a Britain-based war monitor said yesterday.
The clashes on the edge of the jihadist-controlled Idlib region have killed 44 government loyalists and 39 jihadists and Islamist fighters since Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The region of some three million people -- almost half of them displaced from other parts of the country -- is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.
The alliance administers a region that spans most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of the neighbouring Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama provinces.
The region has seen a spike in bombardment since late April, with regime forces seizing several towns on the region’s southwestern flank.
Late Thursday, the jihadists and allied rebels launched a counterattack against regime forces in the northwest of Hama province.
They have since seized the villages of Tal Maleh and Jibeen there, the Observatory said.
“Violent clashes are ongoing, accompanied by regime and Russian air strikes,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The fighting is raging near Christian and Alawite areas under regime control, he said.
Idlib is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a September buffer zone deal signed between regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. But it was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned demilitarised zone.
The government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 300 civilians, according to the Observatory. The United Nations say more than 270,000 people have fled their homes.