Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria's Idlib: Monitor

Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria's Idlib: Monitor

BEIRUT - Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate seized control of most of Idlib on Saturday after government forces pulled back to bases in the heart of the main northwestern city, a monitoring group said.

Al-Nusra Front and its Islamist allies "control the majority of neighbourhoods in Idlib, apart from government and security buildings," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

Street fighting raged through the night after the rebels entered the government-held city on Friday evening.

"Regime forces have retreated and are now in their barracks," Abdel Rahman said.

Idlib province, which borders Turkey, is a bastion of Al-Nusra, with only Idlib city itself remaining under government control.

Were the jihadists to take Idlib, it would become only the second provincial capital after Raqa - the stronghold of the Islamic State group - to fall out of government hands since the conflict erupted in 2011.

On Tuesday, a new coalition of Islamist rebels launched a coordinated attack against Idlib.

Calling itself "The Army of Conquest," the coalition is led by Al-Nusra and includes several other groups.

At least 71 people were killed as the jihadists seized regime checkpoints on the outskirts of Idlib on Thursday.

According to Abdel Rahman, the Syrian army had sent in reinforcements and carried out air strikes on rebel positions on the outskirts of the city.

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