Several Islamist factions including al-Qaeda arm Jabat al Nusra, seized large parts of Syra's Idlib Saturday after regime forces pulled back to bases in the government-held northwestern city, activists told the AFP.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the news agency the Islamist group and its partners now control most of the city, with the exception of government buildings and security locations.
The groups entered the city late Friday in an attempt to takeover control from the Syrian military and militias, sparking fierce street clashes that raged through the night and into the morning. Rahman said the fight pushed government forces back into their barracks Saturday in the border city long held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Islamists' Idlib offensive came after several factions formed an umbrella coalition with which to attack the regime's last stronghold in the border province. For Nusra, who has seized the area surrounding the capital Idlib, a victory in the city would represent a shift in the battle against Assad's forces, who have kept control of all the province capitals aside from Daesh's Raqqa stronghold since the uprising began in 2011.
The Observatory said Nusra and its allies staged the first push toward Idlib Thursday, seizing control of government checkpoints on the outskirts of the city in clashes that left at least 71 people dead. In response, government forces have reportedly sent reinforcement troops to the area and covered rebel-held areas with fresh airstrikes.
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