Syrian oppostion fighters down regime planes, jihadists advance: NGO

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Syrian opposition fighters on Thursday shot down two military warplanes over the northwestern province of Idlib, said a monitoring group.

Both jets were hit with fire from heavy machineguns while the air force was carrying out a series of raids in the area, much of which is under the control of the opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Meanwhile, fighters from the Islamist Al-Nusra Front seized the town of Shadadeh in the oil-rich northeastern province of Hasake, on the border with Iraq, said the observatory.

“After three days of fierce battles against the army, Al-Nusra Front fighters have seized control of Shadadeh,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reporting.

Fighting and car bomb attacks by the jihadists left more than 100 troops dead in three days, during which 30 Al-Nusra Front fighters also died, five of whom were from Kuwait, said the Observatory.

“Dozens of employees” working for the state oil company were also killed in the rebel assault on the town, said the watchdog, without elaborating.

Further west, pro-regime media on Thursday admitted the army's loss to Islamist fighters of Base 80, a strategic army complex tasked with securing the nearby Aleppo international airport and military airports in the area.

“The army is preparing to retake control of Base 80,” Al-Watan daily said, adding that “hundreds of armed men” were killed in fighting over the complex.

Elsewhere in the strife-torn country, the army made its own military advance, seizing a key district in the central city of Homs after several weeks of fierce fighting, said the Observatory.

“The army has entered Jobar in western Homs, and rebel fighters have withdrawn from the district,” said the group's director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The victory comes a week after the army took control of Kafraya, also in southwestern Homs.

Activists refer to Homs city as “the capital of the revolution” and several of its districts have been suffocated by a siege for some eight months.

On January 19, the army launched an all-out bid to secure the route linking Damascus to the coast, which runs through western Homs but has so far failed to take complete control.

In violence elsewhere in Homs province, the air force bombarded “for the 10th day in a row” the ancient city of Palmyra, activist Mohammed al-Khatib told AFP via the Internet.

Warplanes also raided the nearby town of Rastan, which has been out of the control of the army for at least a year, said the Observatory.

“Homs province is strategic to the regime because it is the largest in the country and because it links Damascus to the coast,” said Abu Rawan, a Rastan-based activists.

“The army will do all it can to take back rebel-controlled territory,” he added.

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