A coalition of Islamist Syrian rebel groups — including al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra — seized control of the strategic city of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province Saturday after heavy fighting with Syrian government forces.
The capture of the town, which is located close to government strongholds near the Mediterranean coast on the main highway between Aleppo and the port city of Latakia, marks a significant loss for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Local activist reports described a "mass killing" as regime forces bombarded Jisr al-Shughour with at least 30 airstrikes in their attempts to regain control over the town. It is not immediately clear how many people were killed in the fighting, although the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that "dozens" of civilians were wounded or killed in the aerial assault by the regime.
"Government forces fled. Thousands of rebel fighters are in the city. Clashes are continuing in some neighborhoods where soldiers are attempting to break out," Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based SOHR, told AFP.
The SOHR also reported that government forces allegedly executed 23 detainees before leaving Jisr al-Shughour.
23 detainees executed by regime forces in the Jisr al-Shughour Military Security Branch before they withdrew. — Rami (@RamiSafadi93)April 25, 2015
Videos uploaded by Islamist groups show rebel forces fighting to capture the city and residents celebrating the departure of Assad's forces in the aftermath of the battle.
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Jisr al-Shughour was the last area in Idlib province that remained under regime control. A coalition of Islamist and rebel groups captured the city of Idlib, the capital of the province, last month.
"Jisr al-Shughour is more important than Idlib itself, it is very close to the coastal area which is a regime area, the coast now is within our fire reach," a spokesperson for the opposition group Ahrar al-Sham told Reuters.
Rebels dubbed the effort to takeover Jisr al-Shughour, which began Wednesday, "Battle of Victory." The capture of the town and much of Idlib province illustrates the success of the rebels' strategy of forming alliances and armed battalions to battle Assad. Members of the Islamist opposition groups Ahrar al-Sham, Jind al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Islam, and Jabhat al-Nusra all participated in the campaign.
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