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Islamist rebels take last major government-held town in Syria's Idlib province

Syrian state news reported government forces had pulled to the outskirts of Jisr al-Shughour after an attack by rebel forces, including al-Qaida's Syrian wing, the Nusra Front.

By
Fred Lambert

JISR AL-SHUGHUR, Syria, April 26 (UPI) -- Islamist rebels on Saturday drove forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad from the the last major town held by the Syrian government in Idlib province, according to reports.

Along with an array of other Islamic factions, Al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, was among the attack force against Jisr al-Shughour, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Syrian state news reported the militants had flowed in from the direction of the Turkish border and that government forces fled to the outskirts of the town on Saturday in order to avoid civilian casualties and to fortify defensive positions.

The militants executed 30 people early Sunday, mostly civilians, according to Syrian state news. According to SOHR, members of the Syrian military intelligence in Jisr al-Shughour executed 23 detainees.

Since the attack began on Thursday, Syrian military airstrikes have pounded rebel supply routes and positions in the town.

On Saturday 10 people were killed by an airstrike in the center of Jisr al-Shughour, according to SOHR. Twenty airstrikes hit the town the following day, and militants surrounded 30 Syrian army troops and 10 pro-government fighters holed up in the town's hospital, the observatory reported.

Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Jisr al-Shughour had been under government control. It was the last major government-held town in Idlib province. Islamist militants captured Idlib city last month.

According to the BBC's Middle East analyst, Sebastian Usher, the fall of Idlib province would open the way to Latakia province in the west, a largely untouched area that is home to the core of Syria's minority Alawite community, to which the family of the country's embattled president belongs.

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