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Fighting kills 26 in Syria's northwest, monitor says

AFP-JIJI

Clashes between Syrian regime forces and jihadis Monday killed more than 26 fighters in the country’s northwest, which has seen an escalation in shelling and airstrikes, a monitor said.

Eleven pro-government fighters were among those killed in fierce fighting in the northern countryside of Hama province, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Fifteen jihadis, including members of al-Qaida’s former Syrian branch, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and its ally, the Turkistan Islamic Party, were also killed, the war monitor said.

The fighting came as regime forces advanced on two villages and a strategic hilltop in the region, it said.

State news agency SANA said Syrian troops launched “intensive operations,” targeting supply lines and areas where armed groups operate in northern Hama and neighboring Idlib.

The region held by HTS has faced intensifying bombardment in the past month, prompting a new wave of displacement.

On Monday, four civilians were killed in shelling and airstrikes on Idlib and neighboring areas by the Syrian government and its ally Russia, said the Observatory.

An AFP photographer in Idlib saw several houses completely destroyed by recent attacks.

One man who lost his wife, his daughter-in-law, and his two grandchildren during shelling overnight prepared a pickup truck to relocate surviving members of his family.

“I don’t know where I’m going,” he told AFP.

More than 140,000 civilians have been forced to flee attacks since February, Refugees International said on Monday.

“It is difficult to overstate the urgency of this looming humanitarian disaster if nothing is done to protect these people,” the non-governmental organization said in a statement.

Escalated attacks have hit schools and medical facilities, according to the UN.

Since 28 April, at least seven health care facilities have reportedly been struck, including four in Hama and three in Idlib, said David Swanson of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Russia and rebel-backer Turkey in September inked a buffer zone deal to prevent a massive regime offensive on the Idlib region, near the Turkish border.

But the region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.