Qaeda, allies overrun Syria government holdout in northwest

Residents inspect a fire at a damaged site after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad on a mosque in Idlib city, after rebels took control of the area, April 3, 2015. — Reuters pic
Residents inspect a fire at a damaged site after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad on a mosque in Idlib city, after rebels took control of the area, April 3, 2015. — Reuters pic

BEIRUT, April 25 — Fighters of Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate and its allies overran the last major government-held city in the northwestern province of Idlib today, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bodies of at least 60 government fighters were lying in the streets of Jisr al-Shughur after the rebel attack.

The Islamists launched their attack on the city on Thursday, seeking to capitalise on their capture of the provincial capital last month.

As well as being one of the regime’s last bastions in Idlib province, Jisr al-Shughur’s capture also opens up a strategic assault route to the government stronghold of Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast.

“Al-Nusra Front and the Islamist brigades... took control of almost all the city,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “Government forces fled.

“Thousands of rebel fighters are in the city. Clashes are continuing in some neighbourhoods where soldiers are attempting to break out.”

Syrian state television said “army units are engaged in fierce clashes in the city of Jisr al-Shughur and are strengthening their defensive positions in the surrounding area.”

State news agency SANA said “aircraft bombed groups of terrorists in the Jisr al-Shughur region, and destroyed dozens of military vehicles and killed terrorists.”

The jihadists hailed victory on their official Twitter account.

“The mujahedeen have entered the city centre. The city has been liberated,” Al-Nusra said.

Jisr al-Shughur became the regime’s de facto provincial capital after the same coalition of Al-Nusra and other Islamists, fighting under the name “The Army of Conquest,” overran Idlib city last month.

Abdel Rahman said that the rebels’ latest victory was even more important as it cut a key road between the government stronghold of Latakia and the central province of Hama.

The regime still controls a few areas in the east of Idlib province, including the town of Ariha, a military base in Al-Mastumah and an air base at Abu Duhur. — AFP

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