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Clashes between 'radical' fighters and rebels 'leave 31 dead in western Aleppo'

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham takes control of town of Darat Izza after fighting with the National Liberation Front, UK-based activist group says
Nureddine al-Zinki is a major group in the National Liberation Front, a Turkish-backed rebel alliance (AFP)

Clashes between "radical" fighters and rebels in northern Syria have killed at least 31 people, an activist group said on Wednesday.

Tuesday's fighting, pitting al-Qaeda-linked coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) against an alliance of rebel groups, flared in western Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

As a result of the fighting, the Observatory said, HTS had taken control of Darat Izza, the second-largest town in the western sector of the Aleppo countryside, as well as the roads to the town and a number of checkpoints, positions and areas around it.

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HTS had on Monday accused rebel group Nureddine al-Zinki of killing five of its members, and launched an offensive against rebel positions close to the country's last opposition bastion in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Al-Zinki is a major player in the National Liberation Front (NLF), a Turkish-backed rebel alliance.

The UK-based Observatory said 14 HTS members and 12 NLF fighters had been killed in Tuesday's fighting, along with five civilians, including two children. It said dozens more were reported wounded.

The Observatory also said 10 fighters, including injured ones, from al-Zinki and the National Liberation Front had been captured and there were reports that members of HTS had been taken prisoner as well.

Regular clashes

HTS and other armed groups dominate more than half of Idlib province, while the NLF holds most of the rest.

The two have regularly clashed over control of territory.

Russia and Turkey reached a deal in Sochi last September to enforce a demilitarised zone in Idlib that is the last stronghold of rebels who rose against President Bashar al-Assad's government in 2011.

Idlib province is also home to about three million people, more than half of whom have already been displaced at least once during the civil war in Syria.

The Syrian army and allied militias had wanted to press on to regain the last of the rebel-held areas after recapturing southern Syria and ending rebel control around the capital.

Syria's conflict flared with anti-government protests in 2011 that were brutally repressed, sparking a complex multi-front civil war involving a myriad of armed factions, rebel groups and foreign powers.

It has left more than 360,000 people dead and displaced millions.