Rebels have launched a counter-attack against Syrian regime forces and their allies in Idlib province.
Rebels launched a counter-attack against Syrian regime forces and their allies in Idlib province on Thursday, trying to roll back an advance that is fuelling tension with neighbouring Turkey.
Fighting raged in Idlib, where a regime offensive helped by Iran-backed militia has gathered pace in the last two weeks, according to rebels and a military media unit run by Lebanon's Hezbollah, which is fighting on the Syrian regime side.
Rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said in a statement they had set up a joint operations room to repel the offensive and take back areas seized by the regime in northeastern Hama and southern Idlib.
"The operation is to hit the belly of the regime deep into liberated territories and to encircle their advancing forces," said Abdul Hakim al Rahamon, a senior official in Jaish al Nasr, an FSA faction taking part.
Tahrir al Sham (HTS), an alliance led by the Nusra Front, the dominant force in Idlib, said it had already made gains.
"With Allah's blessings we drew plans and prepared ourselves and are encircling them," said Abu al Naji, a commander from Tahrir al Sham. "We have killed many."
TRT World's Sara Firth reports.
'Fierce assault' by the Nusra Front
The Hezbollah media unit said the army and its allies were repelling a "fierce assault" by the Nusra Front, formerly al Qaeda's affiliate in the Syrian war, and factions linked to it.
Syrian regime and allied forces absorbed the attack and regained control of some positions they had withdrawn from, it said.
Rebels said they had captured some 15 villages and seized 60 regime fighters. A source from the regime denied this and dismissed rebel talk of a counter-attack as propaganda.
The source said fierce battles were however underway in the area and army advances were continuing.
Rebel sources said warplanes had struck Khan Shaykhun and Saraqeb, two major population centres in Idlib province that are among several towns that have been targeted in the latest offensive.
TRT World speaks to Huseyin Alptekin from SETA foundation.
The latest push by the army and its allies has alarmed Turkey which has been deploying forces inside northern Idlib and setting up bases which it says are part of agreements with Iran and Russia over a de-escalation zone in Idlib.
Idlib province is the biggest chunk of Syria still held by rebels fighting the regime leader Bashar al Assad, with a population swollen by Syrians who have fled regime advances in other parts of the country. Assad has defeated rebels in many parts of western Syria with critical help from Russia and Iran.
The recent military escalation in western Syria has included an unprecedented attack by a squadron of drones on Russian military bases and has cast a shadow over Moscow's efforts to convene a Syria peace congress later this month.