Beirut (AFP)

Syrian regime forces have taken control of the entire strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Idlib province, where they are fighting against jihadists and rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. 'Man (OSDH).

"Regime forces carry out demining operations" in Khan Cheikhoun, a city in the south of Idleb province, Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Observatory, said.

Most of Idleb province and segments of neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia still escape the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after eight years of conflict and despite reclaiming most of the territory by the diet.

This region, dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and home to rebel groups, has been targeted since the end of April for almost daily bombings of Damascus and its Russian ally. , which killed nearly 890 civilians according to the OSDH.

Three civilians were still killed by aerial bombardment on Wednesday as 21 rebels or jihadists were killed in the fighting as well as 10 members of pro-regime forces, the Observatory said.

On Tuesday, jihadists and rebels withdrew from Khan Sheikhoun and neighboring areas in northern Hama province in the face of the advance of Moscow-backed regime troops, the OSDH reported.

They are trying to regain control of the Aleppo-Damascus highway, which runs through the province of Idleb and Khan Cheikhoun.

They are now deployed, according to the director of the OSDH, on the roads around Khan Sheikhoun, encircling an area from the south of the city to the north of the neighboring province of Hama and closing access to a major post office. Turkish observation in the city of Morek (ten km south of Khan Sheikhoun).

Turkey, which supports some rebel groups, has several observation posts in and around Idleb under previous agreements with Moscow to guarantee a demilitarized zone and a ceasefire.

- "Important displacements" -

Turkish soldiers can only withdraw through government-controlled roads, Abdel Rahman said.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has ruled out "for the moment" any withdrawal of Morek.

On Monday, tensions mounted between the Syrian regime and Ankara. Turkey had dispatched a military convoy of about 50 vehicles, after the entry of pro-regime forces into Khan Sheikhoun.

But it had to stop after Russian and Syrian bombings that killed three civilians, according to Ankara. The three dead are rebel fighters proturcs, according to the OSDH.

Ankara had "strongly" condemned the attack, urging Damascus not to "play with fire".

The Syrian president responded by saying that "the latest fighting in Idleb has revealed ... Ankara's clear and unlimited support for terrorists".

Since late April, more than 400,000 people have been displaced by the violence, according to the UN.

An AFP correspondent saw on Wednesday dozens of trucks carrying people fleeing fighting heading north of the province of Idleb, still safe from the recent escalation of violence.

"We continue to receive reports of significant displacement in northwestern Syria," said David Swanson, UN regional spokesman for the crisis in Syria, on Wednesday.

Triggered in 2011 after the regime's suppression of pro-democracy protests, the war in Syria claimed more than 370,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

© 2019 AFP