Militants of al-Nusra Front (Syria’s al-Qaeda) seized an area south of a Shiite Muslim village in northern Syria on Sunday after clashes with pro-government fighters, opposition activists said.
The insurgents advanced overnight on al-Zahra, north of Aleppo city, seizing territory to the south and also trying to take land to the east in an attempt to capture the village, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Al-Zahra and the nearby village of Nubl have been under a long siege by anti-government forces in an isolated Shi’ite area. The United Nations said in March that armed groups surrounding the villages had cut electrical and water lines supplying 45,000 residents. The army has used helicopters to drop supplies to the villagers.
According to opposition activists the fighters also targeted Nubl and were seeking to capture both in the advance on the villages, which are located along a highway that leads to Turkey. Control of the villages could open up a new supply line into Aleppo for the insurgents.
“We targeted the town with dozens of mortar shells and dozens of hell cannon shells but Nusra’s forces made progress and gain control of buildings which were in the first line of defense of Nubl,” said media activist Ahmed Hamidou who was accompanying battalions involved in the campaign.
The clashes killed at least eight of the fighters advancing on al-Zahra and a number of fighters from the pro-government National Defense Force, the Observatory said.
Villagers from both al-Zahra and Nubl backed up forces trying to stop the Nusra-led offensive, activists said, adding that the Syrian air force had also reacted by bombing several other villages north of Aleppo.
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