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Al-Qaida, Allies Take Strategic Town in Northwest Syria


Rebel fighters drive in a convoy as they head toward what they said was an offensive to take control of Jisr al-Shughur and the surrounding areas, which are controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, April 20, 2015.

Al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate and its allies seized the last major government-held town in Idlib province Saturday, giving the rebels a possible route to the coastal heartland of the Assad regime.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the al-Nusra Front and the Islamist Brigades took full control of the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur after four days of fighting with Syrian forces. It said clashes were ongoing in the western part of the town.

The observatory reported the bodies of at least 60 pro-government fighters were lying in the streets, and it videotaped what it described as soldiers fleeing from the fighting, using civilians as human shields.

Analysts say the fall of Jisr al-Shughur opens up a strategic route for the rebels to neighboring Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast, a bastion of support for President Bashar al-Assad.

The capture of the town came about a month after a similar alliance of opposition forces seized the city of Idlib from government forces for the first time in the Syrian civil war.

More than 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and millions of others have been forced out of their homes.