Syrian rebels launch counter-attack in Idlib

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The main aim of the troops is to reach the rebel-held Abu Zuhour air base and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest.

Rebels launched a counter-attack against Syrian government forces and their allies in Idlib province on Thursday, trying to roll back an advance that is fuelling tension with neighbouring Turkey.

The U.N.'s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, in Damascus, said he was "deeply worried" about civilians caught up in the violence in Idlib.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official profile], Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, on Wednesday condemned [press release] the rise in civilian casualties in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria resulting from the recent increase in airstrikes and ground-based attacks by government forces and its allies, highlighting that all parties are "obliged under global law to distinguish between lawful military targets, and civilians and civilian objects".

On Wednesday, more than two dozen people were killed in the government bombardment of eastern Ghouta and rebel shelling of the capital itself. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops repelled the assault and killed several militants in the fighting.

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The fighting has displaced an estimated 100,000 people who have fled north toward safer areas close to the border with Turkey.

Airstrikes and ground-based attacks on on Tuesday have reportedly killed at least 13 civilians, including four women, four boys and three girls in a residential area of opposition-controlled Hamourya.

A statement Thursday by the International Rescue Committee said it received hundreds of newly displaced people from the southeast of the province in the past few days, joining thousands who fled over the past month.

Syrian regime forces faced fierce resistance from extremists Thursday as they fought to capture a key airbase in Idlib, the last province beyond the government's control, a war monitor said.

Numerous newly displaced brought only the belongings they could carry, the committee said, adding that one mother of two twin babies recounted the initial panic of fleeing the airstrikes.

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"We couldn't think properly".

He said at least 85 civilians, including 21 women and 30 children, have been killed and at least 183 wounded in eastern Ghouta since December 31.

Rebel fighters recaptured a number of villages in the countryside of Idlib and Hama from regime forces.

Meanwhile, the United Nations official said he had detailed and open discussions with the Syrian government about the crisis and what more needs to be done to reduce the humanitarian suffering.

State media said the Syrian army broke through rebel lines Sunday to reach soldiers trapped at the Murakabat vehicle base near Harasta, in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.

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