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Qaeda in Syria seizes key hilltops from regime

Tuesday, Mar 8, 2016,9:41 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Beirut | Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate and allied jihadists seized a set of strategic hilltops held by pro-regime forces in the country’s north, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants battled government loyalists and overran three hilltops yesterday in the Al-Eis area south of Aleppo city. Fighters from Al-Nusra Front, Jund Al-Aqsa, and other groups seized the central Al-Eis hilltop and surrounding hills as well, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told.

The jihadists detonated five car bombs during their offensive. The hilltops are important because they reinforce the regime’s presence in the outskirts of Aleppo and gave them a presence near the main highway south towards Damascus, Abdel Rahman said. Aleppo province is broken up into a complex patchwork of territories under the control of various groups. The Islamic State group is dominant in the east, while rebel groups some allied with Al-Nusra control much of the west.

Government forces based south of Aleppo city have tried to expand their control north and east. Further west in Idlib province, at least 19 civilians were killed in an air strike believed to have been conducted by either Russian or regime planes, the Observatory reported. The raid struck a diesel market in the town of Abu Duhur, controlled by a coalition of groups including Al-Nusra.

Three of those killed were women. Yesterday was the tenth day of a landmark ceasefire across parts of the country brokered by the United States and Russia. The truce does not include areas held by IS and Al-Nusra. More than 270,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, evolving from widespread anti-government protests to a brutal war.