Clashes Across Northern Syria Strain Cease-Fire

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 7:04 PM

Syrian rebels advanced on government positions in the Turkmen Mountains of the northwest Latakia province, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists interior the country.

Syrian government forces and rebels clashed across the country'south N on Sun in the latest indication that a monthlong cease-fire may be breaking down, as the Islamic State grouping seized two villages along the Turkish border from other insurgents.

Syrian rebels advanced on government positions in the Turkmen Mountains of the northwest Latakia province, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists interior the country.

It said an insurgent coalition led by the jihadist Ahrar al-Sham, alongside al-Qaida'south Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, seized the village of Baydaa as heavy fighting continued throughout the day. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, confirmed the advance and said nine government soldiers were killed.

The advance builds on a week of heavy fighting around the N of the country that's raised concerns about the durability of a U. S. and Russia brokered "cessation of hostilities" that took effect in late February, bringing relative peaceful to much of the country. The Nusra Front and the Islamic State grouping are excluded from the cease-fire.

The Observatory said at least thirty-five fighters died in clashes Saturday night and early Sun S of the country'south second city, Aleppo, where opposition groups led by the Nusra Front seized the village of al-Ais eight days ago, killing dozens of government troops and allied militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halki told a Russian parliamentary delegation that Syrian troops and the Russian air force are preparing a joint operation to retake al-Ais, Russia'south TASS news agency reported Sunday.

The IS grouping has meanwhile launched a major offensive along the Turkish border, seizing two villages close a border town captured by Western-backed rebels two days ago.

IS militants seized Sheikh Reeh and al-Bal on Sunday, the Observatory said.

The extremists exploded seven bombs around Marea and other villages and towns, according to the activist-run Azaz Media Center, based in a northern town of the same name, which called it the fiercest IS offensive in a year.

The IS-linked Aamaq News Agency claims the capture of the two villages and says a suicide operation targeted rebel fighters in opposition-held Kafr Shush.

The Western-backed Free Syrian Army captured the border town of al-Rai from IS on Friday.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Observatory, said IS is on the offensive to defend its stronghold in nearby Dabiq. The town has grand symbolic importance to the extremists, who believe based on medieval prophecies that it'll be the site of a doomsday battle against infidels.

Abdurrahman said fighting is intensifying on all the fronts in Aleppo, adding that it "definitely" threatens the cease-fire.

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