Insurgents briefly captured several government-held positions in northwest Syria Monday, in fighting that left more than 40 fighters dead on both sides, opposition activists said.
The anti-government offensive was among the most serious since early March, when an agreement between Turkey and Russia halted the Syrian government’s three-month air and ground campaign into the rebel-held Idlib province.
Monday’s fighting took place around the Jabal al-Zawiya region on the southern edge of the northwestern province, the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country.
Russia is the main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey backs opposition fighters trying to remove him from power. Russia and Turkey have become the main power brokers in the war-torn country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said government forces launched a counteroffensive under the cover of Russian airstrikes later Monday afternoon, regaining control of the villages of Fatatra and Manara that they lost earlier in the day.
The Observatory said 22 insurgents and 19 troops were killed in the fighting.
Idlib-based activist Taher al-Omar said insurgents led by members of al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, captured three positions and took one prisoner. He added that HTS is sending reinforcements to the frontlines.
A similar attack on a nearby area in early May left more than 50 gunmen dead and government forces regained the area hours later.