BEIRUT (AFP) – Nearly 200 combatants on both sides were killed in 24 hours when the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda took two regime bases in Idlib province, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain but gleans its information from a wide network of activists and medics on the ground, said Al-Nusra Front attackers also captured more than 100 regime soldiers.
“There were at least 100 dead on the regime side and 80 among the attackers, killed in clashes, bombardments and by mines,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He said at least 120 soldiers were taken prisoner and about another 100 fled south in vehicles and on foot towards the town of Morek in the neighbouring province of Hama.
Seizing the key Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh military posts on Monday also gave the jihadists control of most of the northwestern province, in a major blow to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The jihadists advanced on the bases in coordination with Islamist rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, the Observatory said, adding that a string of villages in the area also fell.
It was also another defeat for Western-backed rebels who were driven out of most of Idlib last month by Al-Nusra Front fighters.
Mainstream rebel forces had been battling to take Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh for around two years, but despite repeated attempts had failed to do so.
Idlib was among the first provinces to fall, soon after the March 2011 outbreak of the armed revolt against Assad’s rule. The conflict began as a pro-democracy movement demanding his ouster, but later evolved into a brutal war after the regime unleashed a massive crackdown.