Regime and extremist-led forces were locked in clashes on Thursday on the edge of an opposition bastion in northwest Syria after an extremist-led advance that killed 56 fighters overnight, a war monitor said.
Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up their deadly bombardment of the Idlib region - administered by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and home to some three million people - since late April, despite a months-old international truce deal.
Clashes have also raged on the edges of the region, including in the north of Hama province.
Late Wednesday, HTS and allied rebels took control of Hamameyat village and hilltop, in clashes that killed 32 regime fighters and 24 fighters within the insurgents’ own ranks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area,” the head of the Britain-based monitor Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday morning.
HTS spokesman Abu Khaled al-Shami said the extremist and rebel fighters attacked after dark, taking control of the “heavily fortified” hill from fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for the allied National Liberation Front rebel grouping, said: “The hill is very strategic because it overlooks... supply routes to enemy forces.”
A September deal between Russia and Turkey was supposed to avert a massive regime offensive on Idlib, but it was never fully implemented and HTS took full administrative control in January.
More than 550 civilians have been killed in regime and Russian air strikes on northwest Syria since the end of April, according to the Observatory.
Air strikes on Wednesday alone killed 11 civilians, among them four children, including in raids that knocked a hospital out of service, the monitor said.
The United Nations says 25 health facilities in the region have been hit, while the fighting has forced 330,000 people to flee their homes.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.