Syria rebels in fresh advance in northwest: NGO

AFP , Monday 26 May 2014

Syrian rebels made advances on Monday in the war-torn country's northwest, seizing several army checkpoints as they inched closer towards taking over two major bases, a monitor and activists said.

The advance in Idlib province came as Al-Qaeda's Syria branch, the Al-Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for two car bomb attacks that killed 12 people a day earlier in the central city of Homs.

In Idlib, rebels and their jihadist Al-Nusra Front allies took over "the Salam checkpoint west of the town of Khan Sheikhun after fierce battles against regime troops", the Syrian Observatory for Human Right said.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), a network of activists across the country, said the Salam checkpoint was "the last regime position in the Khan Sheikhun area," in the south of Idlib province.

Khan Sheikhun "is now completely liberated," the group said.

The Observatory meanwhile said opposition fighters have blocked access to the highway linking the south of Idlib province to rebel-held Morek in the north of neighbouring Hama province.

While rebels have been losing ground in the centre of Syria, they have in recent weeks been making steady progress in Idlib and north of Hama.

The Observatory meanwhile said the latest advance brings rebels closer to taking over the Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh army bases in the area, which opposition fighters have besieged for more than a year.

Elsewhere, the Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for two car bomb attacks on Sunday in the central city of Homs that according to the governor killed 12 people.

"God generously made it possible for the jihadists of Al-Nusra Front in Homs... to break through the strongholds of the regime's shabiha (militia)... despite the many obstacles, security barriers and checkpoints," the jihadist group said on Twitter.

The statement said the first car bomb was parked in the district of Zahraa, in eastern Homs, and the second in the west of the city.

Both suicide car bombs "were detonated at the same time, in order to secure the highest death toll possible," the militants said.

Homs governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP on Monday that the toll from the first car bomb attack had risen to 12 dead and 23 wounded, revising an earlier death toll of 10.

The second attack in the west of Homs wounded seven people.

Homs has seen some of the worst violence in Syria since the outbreak of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that turned into a civil war.

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