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Rebels gain more ground in Syria's Idlib

Insurgents who captured the last government-held town in Syria's Idlib province have made more advances in surrounding areas. The rebels are coming closer to Assad's stronghold and homeland of Latakia.

The so-called "Army of Conquest" - Jaish al-Fatah in Arabic - seized villages around Ariha as regime warplanes bombarded the city.

According to UK-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamist rebels executed 13 Syrian government soldiers and allied paramilitaries in the north-western city of Ariha on Friday.

This came hours after the rebels, led by the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, captured Ariha, the Observatory reported.

Syrian army losses in combat and captivity

Earlier on Friday, the Syrian government admitted that Ariha, its last major stronghold in Idlib, has fallen to Islamist rebels - a setback for President Bashar al-Assad's troops.

The Britain-based Observatory said the insurgents had killed at least 18 pro-government fighters in clashes in the Ariha area who were trying to escape from the city, as well as executing 13 off the battlefield.

The Observatory group, which has a network on contacts on the ground, also added that the Syrian air force has carried out strikes in the area.

Closer to Assad's stronghold

The recent advances have brought insurgents closer to the coastal Latakia province, President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral homeland and an also an area of importance to his government.

Ariha, which used to be home to 40,000 people, was the last remaining government-held city in Idlib after Islamist rebels took over other major cities in the province earlier this year.

Last week, the Islamic State extremist militia seized the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, which raised international fears of fate of the city's artefacts. Germany and Iraq have launched a UN drive seeking a resolution to protect places of cultural, historic and religious significance.

ra/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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