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France anxious by Syrian army offensive in Idlib, wants Astana deal respected

France anxious by Syrian army offensive in Idlib, wants Astana deal respected

Idlib province is nearly entirely controlled by a jihadi outfit known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of fighters from a former al-Qaida affiliate.

Earlier in the day, an array of rebel groups in northern Syria unleashed a major counter-offensive to foil a Syrian military campaign in Idlib, following a significant advance of the government forces in that key rebel bastion.

If it is recaptured, the airport will be "the first military base in the hands of the regime in Idlib province", said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Almost 100,000 people have been displaced since early December by fighting in northwestern Syria, where the regime is waging an offensive against jihadis, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Fighting raged in Idlib, where a government offensive helped by Iran-backed militia has gathered pace in the last two weeks, according to rebels and a military media unit run by Lebanon's Hezbollah, which is fighting on the Syrian government side.

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The regime's goal is to retake the southeast of Idlib province in order to secure a route between Damascus and second city Aleppo, both under its control, according to the Observatory.

Sixteen jihadists and rebels were killed in the counter-attack as they sought to cut off regime forces at the airport from their rear bases, the Britain-based war monitor said.

The UN's humanitarian coordination office OCHA said on Wednesday that the situation in Idlib was "extremely chaotic", with newly displaced people reportedly scattered across open areas.

One, a mother of twins, said she had initially left one of her children behind in the panic to escape the air strikes.

At least 11 civilians were killed in heavy Syrian regime air raids on Idlib province on Friday night, where fighting on the ground has raged for over a week.

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