Rebel attack in northwest Syria triggers government response

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: July 10, 2018

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces bombed villages and towns in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday after a surprise attack by insurgents that reportedly killed two dozen soldiers, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government bombardment targeted half a dozen rebel-held villages in the northwestern Idlib province, killing at least five civilians. The activist-operated Idlib Media Center put the death toll at four.

The government assault came hours after rebels in Idlib seized the village of Ateera near the border with Turkey in a surprise attack. It was a rare advance for the armed opposition, which has suffered a series of major defeats across the country in recent months. The Observatory and other activist-operated platforms reported that over two dozen soldiers were killed, including a number of officers.

Damascus Now, a pro-government media group on social media, said armed groups attacked a government border post late Monday near Ateera, located in Latakia province, setting off clashes that involved artillery shelling. The attack resulted in deaths among the Syrian army, it said, without providing figures.

The government is waging a wide-scale offensive in southern Syria, where it recently retook a major crossing on the border with Jordan.

Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold, is included in a "de-escalation" agreement negotiated by Russia and Iran, which support the government, and Turkey, which backs the opposition and has deployed a dozen observation points in the province.

Similar agreements elsewhere in the country have collapsed in the face of government offensives, and the government is expected to advance on Idlib province once it has secured other areas.

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