Syrian military aircraft have bombed the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour today, a day after insurgents seized control of it as part of a broader offensive that has left government forces in the area reeling.
The opposition campaign, spearheaded by the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front and Islamic rebel factions, has captured the two largest urban centres in Idlib province in the space of a month. President Bashar Assad’s troops have been unable to take back any of the ground lost, despite attempts to mount a counter-offensive.
The Local Co-ordination Committees activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today’s air strikes – up to 20 of them, according to the Observatory – targeted the town of Jisr al-Shughour. There was no immediate word on casualties.
An air strike on the town of Darkoush, some 12 miles north of Jisr al-Shughour, killed and injured dozens of people, both activist groups said.
The Syrian military has been relying heavily on its air power to try to tackle the opposition tide, and carried out dozens of air strikes on Jisr al-Shughour and the surrounding area yesterday. The Observatory said at least 27 people, including at least 20 fighters, were killed in such strikes yesterday alone.
The main fighting front is now located three miles south of town, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman. Rebels have been attacking government positions in a sprawling agricultural plain south of Jisr al-Shughour as part of the wider offensive.
Syria’s state news agency said the army ambushed a “convoy of terrorists” along a road in the plain, known as Sahel al-Ghab, destroying six vehicles and killing those inside. The government refers to those trying to topple Assad as terrorists.
The fight for Jisr al-Shughour began on Wednesday and activists have said thousands of fighters took part in the offensive, which first targeted military facilities and checkpoints before seizing the town itself. With the fall of Jisr al-Shughour, the government is left with a presence in only a few towns and villages in Idlib province, as well as military bases.