Syrian government forces, opposition fighters clash in quake-hit region

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Syrian government forces and opposition fighters have clashed overnight in northwest Syria for the first time since an earthquake devastated the region on February 6, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday.

The northwest, one of the region’s most badly affected by the earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey, is controlled by fighters opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The Observatory said government forces had shelled the outskirts of the opposition-town of Atareb. This coincided with clashes with heavy machine guns between government and opposition forces at a nearby frontline, it said.

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Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said 235 people in Atareb and the nearby areas had died in the earthquake.

More than 4,400 people were reported killed by the earthquake in the northwest, according to a UN agency, the bulk of the fatalities in Syria.

Government and opposition forces also clashed in another part of the northwest near the government town of Saraqeb, while government forces shelled the outskirts of two villages in Hama province, the Observatory reported.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The World Health Organization has said it was particularly concerned about the welfare of people in the northwest, where many people have felt abandoned as supplies almost invariably head to other parts of the sprawling disaster zone.

The Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, uprooted more than half the population and forced millions abroad as refugees since 2011.

More than 4 million people were already dependent on aid in northwestern Syria before the earthquake.

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