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Clashes kill more than 100 fighters in northwest Syria

Over 100 fighters were killed in clashes Thursday between regime and militant-led forces in northwest Syria, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a September truce deal.

In nearby Afrin, a car bombing killed 13 people in the latest violence to hit the city that Turkey-backed rebels seized last year from Kurdish fighters.

Syria’s civil war has killed a total of more than 370,000 people and spiraled into a complex conflict since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russian and regime aircraft have since late April ramped up deadly bombardment of the Idlib region of some 3 million people in northwest Syria, despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.

Regime forces have also been locked in battle with militants and allied rebels on the edges of the bastion held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, including north of Hama province.Clashes raged Thursday in northern Hama after a small advance by militant-led forces overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting and bombardment since the launch of the attack late Wednesday killed at least 46 regime forces and 36 militants and allied rebels, the Britain-based activist group said.

“The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area,” Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

HTS spokesperson Abu Khaled al-Shami said the militant and rebel fighters attacked after dark, taking control of Hamameyat and a hilltop.

In air raids Thursday, a civilian was killed in a Russian strike on the Idlib town of Latamneh, the Observatory said, while rebel shelling cost the life of a woman in regime-held area outside the militant stronghold.

Elsewhere in Syria, eight civilians were among the 13 people killed in a car bomb near a checkpoint outside Afrin, the Observatory added.

Turkish troops and Syrian proxies took control of Afrin from Kurdish forces they consider “terrorists” in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

Those killed also included four fighters.

“Among the victims, at least six are originally from Eastern Ghouta,” a former rebel bastion near Damascus retaken by the regime last year, Rahman said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but a commander with a pro-Ankara faction accused Kurdish fighters.

Since the Turkish-backed rebel takeover, the U.N. and human rights groups have documented widespread abuses in Afrin.

The U.N. and Amnesty have also reported patterns of house appropriations by fighters and civilians bussed to Afrin during the surrender last year of Eastern Ghouta.

Half of the Kurdish enclave’s 320,000 residents have fled, according to a report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, and most are unable to return.

Also Thursday, several people were wounded in a car-bomb blast near a church in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northeast Syria, an AFP journalist and state media said.

Endless rounds of U.N.-led peace talks have failed to stem the bloodshed in Syria.

U.N. peace envoy Geir Pedersen, however, is pushing ahead with a 17-month-old effort to form a committee to write a postwar constitution.


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