Clashes kill more than 80 fighters in northwestern Syria

BEIRUT: More than 80 fighters were killed in clashes on Thursday between the regime and the forces led by the jihadists in the northwest Syria As violence broke out on the edge of an opposition stronghold despite a September truce agreement.

In nearby Afrin, a car bomb killed 13 people in the latest violence to hit the city that the Turkish-backed rebels took last year from Kurdish fighters.

Syria 's civil war has killed a total of more than 370,000 people and spiralled into a complex conflict since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russian and regime aircraft have since late April ramped up deadly bombardment of the Idlib region of some three million people in northwest Syria , despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.

Regime forces have also been locked in battle with jihadists and allied rebels on the edges of the bastion held by Syria 's former Al Qaeda the affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), including the north of Hama province.

Clashes raged Thursday in northern Hama after a small advance by jihadist-led forces overnight, the Syria n Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting and shelling since the launch of the attack on Wednesday night killed at least 46 regime forces and 36 jihadists and Allied rebels, the war monitor based in Britain said.

The fight continues as regime planes and artillery strike the area, said Rami Abdel Rahman Observatory chief.

HTS spokesman Abu Khaled al-Shami said the jihadist and rebel fighters attacked in the evening, taking control of the village of Hamameyat and a hill.

In the airstrikes on Thursday, a civilian was killed in a Russian attack in the Idlib city of Latamneh, the Observatory said, while the bombing of the rebels cost the life of a woman in a regime outside the jihadist stronghold.

Elsewhere in Syria , eight civilians were among the 13 people killed in a car bomb near a checkpoint outside Afrin, the Observatory said.

Turkish troops and Syria n proxies took control of Afrin from Kurdish forces they consider "terrorists" in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

The dead also included four fighters.

Among the victims, at least six are from Ghouta Oriental, a former rebel stronghold near Damascus Resumed by the regime last year, said Abdel Rahman.

There was no immediate demand for responsibility for the explosion, but a commander with a pro-Ankara faction accused the Kurdish fighters.

Since the Turkish takeover of the rebels, the UN and human rights groups have documented widespread abuses in Afrin.

The UN and Amnesty have also reported patterns of housing appropriation by combatants and civilians transported to Afrin during the surrender last year of East Ghouta.

Half of the 320,000 residents of the Kurdish enclave have fled, according to a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and most can not return.

Also on Thursday, several people were wounded in a car-bomb blast near a church in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northeast Syria , an AFP journalist and state media said.

Endless rounds of UN-led peace talks have failed to stem the bloodshed in Syria .

However, UN peace envoy Geir Pedersen is pushing a 17-month effort to form a committee to draft a post-war constitution.

Both he and Damascus on Wednesday expressed "progress" towards forming the panel, whose composition has been the subject of dispute.

Struck by a series of victories backed by Russia since 2015, the regime wants to amend the current constitution, but the opposition wants a totally new one.

A September agreement between Moscow and Ankara was supposed to prevent a massive regime offensive in Idlib, but it was never fully implemented and HTS took full administrative control in January.

More than 560 civilians have been killed in regime and Russian air strikes on northwest Syria since late April, according to the Observatory.

Rebellious fire during the same period, meanwhile, has killed more than 40 civilians in adjacent areas controlled by the government, he said.

The United Nations says that 25 health centers in the region have been affected.

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