Ninety-six civilians, including 27 children, have been killed in Syrian or Russian airstrikes on Idlib province since the start of the offensive, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. By the end of last week, they had advanced into Idlib, close to an insurgent-held military airport.
"The operation is to hit the belly of the regime deep into liberated territories and to encircle their advancing forces", said Abdul Hakim al Rahamon, a senior official in Jaish al Nasr, an FSA faction taking part. The attack also aims to secure the road liking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest. The Syrian army, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began an offensive in late October in Hama province.
Idlib province is nearly entirely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist outfit dominated by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate.
Several militant groups, including Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, launched an attack Thursday against military forces advancing toward the strategic Abu Dhuhur air base in the northwestern province and captured several villages.
The regime lost control of the Abu Duhur airbase in 2015 after a two-year siege by jihadists, with only the Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya remaining under its control in the whole province.
It added that the rebels had used Turkish vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied claims by the French Foreign Ministry about the Syrian army's targeting of hospitals and civilians during the military campaign in Idlib.
The ministry concluded by saying that France, whose people have suffered from the terrorism, should have its diplomats take clear stances regarding terrorism.