A photo shows Syrian soldiers take position in the southern Idlib after reportedly recapturing the area. File photo/AFP
Two days of clashes between regime forces and armed groups in Syria's last major opposition bastion have killed nearly 70 on both sides, a war monitoring group said Sunday.
The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are the most violent there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August, said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maaret Al Numan region as warplanes pounded militants and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from regime forces, said an AFP correspondent.
Residents of affected villages fled north to escape the fighting, adding to the tens of thousands who have already flooded out of the province's violence-plagued south since an escalation started earlier this year.
The Observatory on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day.
At least 36 regime forces were among those killed.
It said an attack led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting.
Overnight, the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles, according to the Britain-based war monitor.
Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing, the war monitor and an AFP correspondent said.
The intelligence-based operation was underway at the militants' hideout in Choti Bala area when they opened fire on the raiding party, triggering a shootout, said Imran Asghar, a counterterrorism official.
The Syrian regime and Russia have stepped up their deadly raids on the Idlib region since late April, despite an international deal intended to prevent a full-scale offensive on the area of some three million people.
Seven of them were killed in the village of Sarja, which lies in Idlib province, most of which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, a group dominated by former members of Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate.
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