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Islamist rebels capture major Syrian stronghold in Idlib province

Islamist fighters have captured large parts of a strategic city in Syria's northwest. Jisr al-Shughour was made the Syrian forces' de facto provincial capital, following the rebels' takeover of Idlib city last month.

Syrian al Qaeda fighters and their allies overran a last major stronghold for government loyalists in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels were almost in complete control of the city.

The monitiring group also said the rebels had managed to push their way inside the town following days of heavy fighting.

At least 60 government loyalists are believed to have been killed in the violence.

The fall of Jisr al-Shughour would mean the province of Idlib would be almost entirely rebel-held.

The city lies between Latakia and the nation's largest city, Aleppo, and will give fighters access to a possible route to launch an assault on government-held Latakia.

Syrian state television reported that clashes were continuing between rebel fighters and army units, who were "strengthening their defensive positions in the surrounding area."

Jisr al-Shughour became the loyalists' de facto capital after the same coalition, made up of al Qaeda ally Nusra Front and other Islamists, overran Idlib city in March.

It's another blow to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime retains control over a few areas in the east of Idlib province.

an/gsw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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