Syria regime-jihadist clashes kill 23: monitor

Beirut (AFP) –


Jihadists launched a counterattack against regime forces Tuesday on the edges of their bastion in northwestern Syria, leaving 14 jihadists and nine pro-government fighters dead, a monitor said.

The jihadist-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment of it in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.

Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as chunks of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

Jihadists on Tuesday launched a counterattack against pro-government positions to the south of the enclave, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighting in the town of Kafr Nabuda in the north of Hama province killed 14 jihadists, along with nine pro-government fighters including five in a car bomb suicide attack, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

The regime's forces took control of the town on May 8, according to the Observatory.

Regime planes also pounded the northern Hama countryside, while Russian aircraft carried out strikes on the south of Idlib province and the west of Aleppo province, it said.

State news agency SANA said "terrorist groups" -- a catch-all term for opposition armed groups -- had fired missiles on the west of regime-held Aleppo city, wounding six civilians.

Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked a buffer zone deal in September to protect the Idlib region of some three million people, amid fears of a massive regime offensive.

But regime fire has increased again since HTS took control in January.

The Observatory says 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, and the United Nations has said tens of thousands have fled their homes.

Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions inside Syria and abroad since starting in March 2011 with a crackdown on anti-government protests.