Syrian insurgents in counteroffensive in northwestern area

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Rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said in a statement they had set up a joint operations room to repel the offensive and take back areas seized by the government in north-eastern Hama and southern Idlib.

Rebels launched a counter-attack against Syrian government forces and their allies in Idlib province on Thursday, trying to roll back an advance that is fuelling tension with neighbouring Turkey. "I also deeply anxious about civilians affected by the upsurge in violence in Idlib.", he said.

A visiting United Nations humanitarian affairs official on Thursday expressed here worries about the fate of besieged civilians in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta countryside of the capital Damascus and other hotspots in the war-torn country. The bombardment has killed 170 civilians over the last two weeks, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said on Wednesday that Syrian troops are fighting militants, including members of al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee, in different areas near Abu Zuhour.

The government offensive in the region has displaced tens of thousands of people, who have fled toward areas close to the Turkish border.

Attacks by Syrian and Russian forces on eastern Ghouta damaged or destroyed four schools and killed eight children in late October and early November 2017, according to a new report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Numerous newly displaced brought only the belongings they could carry, the committee said, adding that one mother of two twin babies recounted the initial panic of fleeing the airstrikes.

Among the dead civilians were 21 women and 30 children, Zeid said.

Syrian regime forces faced fierce resistance from extremists Thursday as they fought to capture a key airbase in Idlib, the last province beyond the government's control, a war monitor said. "The fear affected our brains", said the mother, quoted by the IRC.

The Observatory confirmed insurgents have retaken several villages from government troops and said 11 pro-government fighters were captured. The Observatory says 159 rebels and government soldiers have been killed in fighting over the base since December 29.

More than 340,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war, which began in 2011 as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests. Lowcock, in Damascus, said he would like to see "more detailed evidence" about the claims, and said it would be topic of continued discussion with government officials.

Syrian state media, citing a foreign ministry source, said the French foreign ministry had shown "great ignorance about what was happening in rural Idlib province", which it said the army was fighting to "liberate from the terrorism of the Nusra Front and the other terrorist organisations that belong to it".

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