83 fighters killed in Syria clashes
BEIRUT - Fierce clashes between government forces and jihadists have left 83 combatants dead in northwestern Syria in the past 24 hours, a Britain-based war monitor said Friday.
The clashes on the edge of the jihadist-controlled Idlib region have killed 44 government loyalists and 39 jihadists and Islamist fighters since Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The region of some three million people - almost half of them displaced from other parts of the country - is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate.
It administers a region that spans most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of the neighbouring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces.
Late Thursday, the jihadists and allied rebels launched a counterattack against regime forces in the northwest of Hama province.
They have since seized the villages of Tal Maleh and Jibeen there, the Observatory said.
"Violent clashes are ongoing, accompanied by regime and Russian air strikes," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The fighting is raging near Christian and Alawite areas under regime control, he said.
The jihadists who took part in the counterattack include some from the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen and Turkistan Islamic Party.
Idlib is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a September buffer zone deal.
But the government and its Russian ally have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 300 civilians, according to the Observatory.
Eight years into Syria's civil war, the Idlib region is the last to remain beyond regime control apart from a large northeastern swathe held by the country's Kurds.
The war, which started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations, has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.