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Shelling Resumes in Syrian Towns as Talks Collapse

FILE - A rebel fighter from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement fires an anti-aircraft weapon towards what they said was a helicopter belonging to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern countryside of Idlib.

A Syrian rebel group said Saturday that a cease-fire negotiated with the Syrian army and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, had collapsed and fighting had resumed in the strategic northern town of Zabadani and two nearby villages.

The 72-hour truce in rebel-held Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, and the Shi'ite settlements of Foua and Kafraya - the last two government-held villages in Idlib province - was reached earlier this week and was to last until Sunday.

But Ahrar al-Sham, the main rebel group involved in the negotiations, said they had resumed military operations following failed talks brokered by Turkey and Iran.

"Since this morning, at least 200 rockets have been fired at Foua and Kafraya," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Government forces and allies were shelling rebel positions in Zabadani, Abdel Rahman said. A rebel fighter in Zabadani confirmed army warplanes were flying over the town.

There was no immediate word from Iranian-backed Hezbollah or the Syrian military.

Zabadani has been the focus of a weeks-long offensive by Hezbollah and the Syrian army against insurgent groups holed up inside. Rebels had in turned launched a parallel attack on Foua and Kafraya.

Talks on a cease-fire extension were focused on the withdrawal of rebels from Zabadani in exchange for allowing humanitarian aid to the besieged villages.

The negotiations faltered over an opposition insistence that thousands of prisoners be released from government jails, according to Abdel Rahman and rebel groups.

"The reason [the negotiations] collapsed is we wanted the release of 40,000 prisoners from government jails, and the Iranians rejected it," Ahrar al-Sham spokesman Ahmed Qara Ali told Reuters.

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