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Battle for Idlib: Scores of fighters reported killed in fight for hilltop village

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham says it has seized control of 'heavily fortified' Hamameyat, with at least 71 fighters killed on both sides
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) fighters drive through the village of Hamameyat in Syria's Idlib province (AFP)

At least 71 fighters have been killed in clashes which erupted overnight between pro-Syrian government forces and opposition factions in the northwest province of Idlib, a war monitor said on Thursday.

Idlib is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of militant groups dominated by a former affiliate of al-Qaeda, and is the last region of northwestern Syria still in the hands of opposition forces.

HTS said that it had taken control of the "heavily fortified” Hamameyat village and its hilltop, killing 32 pro-government fighters in the assault. Another 24 fighters from HTS and its allies were killed in the attack, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area," the head of the Britain-based monitor Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP on Thursday morning.

"The hill is very strategic because it overlooks... supply routes to enemy forces,” Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for the allied National Liberation Front rebel grouping, said.

More clashes were reported in the north of Hama province, though no casualties have been reported.

The observatory also reported on Thursday that at least 11 people were killed and many more wounded in a car bombing in Afrin city, which is under the control of Turkish-backed rebel groups.

Some of the victims of the attack, which targeted a checkpoint on the edge of the city, were children, the monitor said.

The fighting in Idlib raged late on Wednesday after Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes targeted and damaged three health facilities across rebel-held areas in Syria, according to rescue workers and local NGOs.

The air strikes took place in the northern Syrian towns of Jisr al-Shughour, Saraqeb and Maarat al-Numan.

Syrian and Russian government warplanes killed 11 civilians on Wednesday, among them four children, in raids that knocked a hospital out of service.

An attack on the national hospital alone in the town of Jisr al-Shughour killed five people and injured 21 civilians, including two children, according to Syrian Expatriates Medical Association (SEMA), which works closely with that hospital.

The hospital and an ambulance used to ferry the injured were also damaged in the air strike, the group said.

Another facility was struck in Saraqeb, while a third was hit in Maarat al-Numan, SEMA said. Those strikes caused minor damage to the facilities, and no injuries were reported.

The United Nations says 25 health facilities in Idlib province have been hit since April, despite a September deal between Russia and rebel backer Turkey to avert a massive Syrian government offensive there.

More than 550 civilians have been killed in Syrian and Russian airstrikes in northwest Syria since the end of April, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported.

The spike in violence has also caused 330,000 people to flee their homes since 1 May, the UN estimates.