Syrian regime forces recaptured Kafranbel in Idlib province on Tuesday, a war monitor said, a symbolic victory in a town that was among the first to rise against Damascus.
Supported by Russian airstrikes, pro-regime forces advancing on the last major opposition-held bastion in northwest Syria captured Kafranbel and 18 nearby towns and villages over the past 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Observatory said regime airstrikes and artillery fire had killed 19 civilians in Idlib, in towns north of Kafranbel.
From the first days of the peaceful uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Kafranbel gained worldwide renown as a bastion of protest.
In 2012, it was rocked by fighting between regime fighters and defectors from al-Assad’s army, soon slipping out of the government’s control.
A town of some 20,000 people, it became known for the often humorous signs in English and Arabic that its residents held up at weekly demonstrations.
“Down with the regime - and the opposition,” a sign at one of the town’s protests read in 2011.
Activists from Kafranbel became famous for speaking out against Damascus as well as criticizing extremists and the radicalization of the uprising against al-Assad.
Prominent activists Raed Fares and Hamod Jnaid were killed by unknown gunmen in the town in November 2018.
In recent weeks, Damascus has pressed a major offensive against the remaining territory still held by extremists and Turkish-backed fighters, which has shrunk to an area roughly the size of Majorca.
The area hosts more than three million people - half of them already displaced by violence elsewhere.
The offensive has killed more than 400 civilians, according to the Observatory, and displaced close to a million people amid bitter cold.
Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.