Damascus: Insurgents have launched a big offensive on government-held areas in northwestern Syria in a bid to advance towards a coastal region vital to President Bashar al-Assad`s control of western Syria, a monitoring group and activists said on Tuesday.
A Syrian military source described the attack as large and widespread. The insurgents are seeking to drive into the Sahl al-Ghab plain, an area crucial to the defence of the coastal mountains that are the heartland for Assad`s Alawite sect.
Supporters of an insurgent alliance fighting in the area, the "Army of Conquest", said the insurgents had seized a power station in the area and listed a total of 16 locations captured from government forces in the offensive.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on the war using sources on the ground, said insurgents including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured government-held positions outside the town of Jisr al-Shughour and pushed into the northern tip of the Sahl al-Ghab plain overnight.
Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, said government forces had launched a counter attack and had recovered some lost ground in Sahl al-Ghab.
The military source said: "The battles are ongoing in that area between the army and the militant attackers, the terrorists."
Insurgents including the Nusra Front captured Jisr al-Shughour in May, part of a wider offensive that drove Syrian government forces from nearly all the northwestern province of Idlib.