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Dozens killed in latest fighting over Idlib province

At least 29 pro-government soldiers, 30 rebel fighters and six civilians were killed on Tuesday, activist group says
White Helmets members carry an injured man following an air strike in southern Idlib province on 25 July (AFP/File photo)

Scores of people were killed in northwest Syria on Tuesday, according to a UK-based activist group, as fighting between pro-government forces and opposition groups continue in Idlib province.

At least 29 pro-government forces and 30 rebel fighters were killed in clashes in southern Idlib and rural Latakia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP news agency. 

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Another six civilians were killed in air strikes on southern Idlib, including three in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the group added.

Government forces and rebel fighters have been caught in fierce battles in the area for days, as the former pushed to advance on a strip of land straddling the Hama and Idlib governorates.

On Sunday, Syrian government forces seized a town on the edge of Idlib, in their first ground advance in the province since an escalation on the rebel-controlled enclave began in late April. 

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rebel group led by Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate, has since January controlled most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. 

Several other armed rebel groups also operate in the region.

The region of northwestern Syria, which is home to about three million civilians, has for months come under consistent Syrian government and Russian bombardment.

On 1 August, the Syrian government agreed to a ceasefire in Idlib on the condition that a Turkish-Russian buffer-zone deal brokered last year was implemented. But days later, air strikes began again after HTS refused to withdraw troops from the buffer-zone. 

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Damascus also accused the rebels of targeting the Shayrat airbase in Homs province, killing at least 31 pro-government fighters.

Idlib province and some of the surrounding areas have escaped the control of President Bashar al-Assad's forces since 2015 and constitute the last major bastion of opposition in Syria.

Fighting in Idlib has killed 790 civilians since late April, mostly in attacks by the Syrian government and Russia, according to the Syrian observatory. 

Fighting over the same period has claimed the lives of almost two thousand combatants, including 900 government loyalists, according to the monitor.

About 400,000 people have been displaced and dozens of hospitals and schools damaged in Syria, according to the United Nations.

The Syrian conflict has left more than 370,000 people dead and driven millions from their homes since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.