BEIRUT: Regime forces captured a town and village from jihadists and allied rebels in northwest Syria Wednesday following deadly clashes, days after ditching a ceasefire for the area, a war monitor said.
The town of Al-Zakat and Al-Arbaeen village in Hama province came under regime control on Wednesday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Both lie on the southern edge of the jihadist-run bastion of Idlib, one of the last centres of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad after eight years of civil war.
Fierce clashes in the area since Tuesday night have killed 17 regime personnel as well as 23 anti-government fighters including 16 jihadists, the Britain-based Observatory said.
The regime and its Russian ally on Wednesday slammed the southern edge of the bastion with air strikes, it said.
Loyalist forces have also closed in on Kafr Zita and Al-Latamneh — another town and village in the same area, according to the Observatory.
State news agency SANA said rocket fire from within the bastion on Wednesday wounded six civilians including five children in a government-held village nearby.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group led by Syria‘s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, has since January controlled most of Idlib province, as well as nearby parts of Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia governorates.
A truce that started on Friday was supposed to protect the three million people living in the region, halting three months of deadly regime and Russian bombardment.
But HTS on Saturday refused to comply with a key condition to that truce, vowing it would never withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the area.
On Monday, the government declared the truce over, accusing its opponents of attacking civilian areas and bombarding an air base of its ally Russia.
“The regime leveraged the ceasefire to send reinforcements to northern Hama” near the border with Idlib, said Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman.
A Turkish-Russian deal struck in September last year was supposed to avert a massive government offensive on the region.
But that deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned demilitarised cordon.
Instead, heightened attacks by the regime and Russia have killed more than 800 civilians since the end of April, the Observatory says.
At least 79 have lost their lives in retaliatory fire on regime-held territory in that same period.
The violence has also pushed 400,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Syria‘s conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.