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Regime makes gains against jihadists in northwest Syria: monitor

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Beirut (AFP)

Syrian regime forces captured two villages in northwest Syria from jihadists and allied rebels, a war monitor said Monday, after weeks of deadly clashes that have killed scores of combatants.

The villages of Jibeen and Tal Maleh in Hama province came under regime control overnight, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Fourteen opposition fighters and eight regime loyalists were killed in battles over the two villages since Sunday, said the Britain-based monitor.

Northern Hama along with Idlib province and parts of Aleppo and Latakia are under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a September buffer zone deal, but it has come under increasing fire by Damascus and its backer Moscow since the end of April.

Government forces and jihadists have also clashed on the edges of the buffer zone, with battles killing nearly 2,000 combatants, including more than 930 regime loyalists, over the same period, the Observatory said.

On Monday, Syrian troops combed Tal Maleh and Jibeen for jihadist holdouts, while destroying their headquarters and stockpiles, a military source told state agency SANA, confirming the villages' recapture.

The two areas have come under alternating control between regime forces and jihadists in recent weeks, following a series of tit-for-tat attacks.

On Monday, regime and Russian warplanes pummelled various parts of Syria's northwest, at least 14 civilians in northern Hama, the Observatory said, updating an earlier death toll.

It said six of them were killed in a strike on a marketplace in the town of Maaret al-Numan.

Heightened bombardment by the two allies has claimed the lives of more than 780 civilians in the region since the end of April, according to the Observatory.

More than 400,000 people have been displaced by the flareup over the same period, the United Nation says.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

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