Fighting in Syria's Idlib leaves 66 dead
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that among the victims were at least 19 civilians killed by airstrikes. Fighting had been ongoing for 24 hours in the area between Idlib and Hama.
Seven children were among the victims said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory.
He added that 27 soldiers were killed in the fighting, as well as 20 anti-regime combatants from the former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham.
The increasing violence in Idlib, the only province in the country with no regime control signals the Syrian government’s initial phase of an upcoming operation against Idlib.
An AFP correspondent near the fighting said aerial activity was intense, and the entire area was rocked by frequent airstrikes.
Friday prayers were cancelled and residents were warned to stay at home.
Idlib province is one of four regions of Syria which are supposed to be safe areas under a deal agreed by Russia, fellow regime ally Iran, and rebel backer Turkey in May.
The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria. The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.