Syrian rebels gather under a bridge during shelling by regime forces in Jisr al-Shughur. File photo
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Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its allies seized the last major government-held city in Idlib province on Saturday, in a blow that could expose the regime’s coastal heartland to rebel attack.
The capture of Jisr al-Shughur in the northwestern province comes nearly a month after the same coalition of opposition forces, known as the “Army of Conquest”, overran the provincial capital.
The city’s fall opens up a strategic assault route for the rebels to neighbouring Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, analysts said.
Shortly after the city’s capture, a string of villages in neighbouring Hama province also fell to rebels.
“(Al-Qaeda affiliate) Al-Nusra Front and the Islamist brigades now have complete control of Jisr al-Shughur,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
“There are some ongoing battles outside the city, to the south and east.”
The bodies of at least 60 regime loyalists had been seen on the streets of the city, which was overrun by thousands of rebels.
In the wake of the capture, the Observatory said government planes carried out at least 30 air strikes on and around the city.