Jihadists claim to have taken control of the Syrian city of Idlib after days of fierce battles with government forces.
Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is leading the coalition of militants that reportedly made large gains today after launching a major offensive against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops earlier this week.
A Twitter account supporting the Jaysh al Fateh alliance claimed victory on Saturday, saying Idlib had been “liberated” by mujahideen and government soldiers were being chased as they fled.
The following video claims to show victorious jihadists in the city and cannot be verified.
It posted pictures claiming to show Islamists waving their black flags in the centre of the city and posing outside official buildings papered with faded pictures of President Assad.
In one video, a rebel fighter is seen tearing a billboard showing Assad in a suit and tie, with the words “Together, we protect it (Syria),” before trampling it with his feet.
Separate footage showed another jihadist outside a building saying: “This is my house, for four years I have not entered it, this is my neighbourhood, this is our country and by God's will we will liberate and inhabit Muslims in it.”
He appeared to be welcomed by several men, some wearing civilian clothes, who hugged him and cried.
Islamist claims of victory have been supported by observers including the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said jihadists had taken control after four days of fighting.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
At least seven rebels reportedly died in battle, while an unknown number of regime soldiers were killed or captured.
The Syrian Air Force continued to target Islamist fighters around the city, which is the capital of Idlib Governorate, bordering Turkey.
According to the Observatory, militants seized control of most of Idlib in a push on Friday evening and early this morning after government forces withdrew to their bases and several other buildings in the city.
The group, which relies on an extensive network of activists across Syria, said heavy fighting continued Saturday amid heavy artillery shelling from both sides.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist collective in Syria, also reported the “almost complete” capture of large parts of Idlib by the rebels.
As well as Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist coalition includes groups known as Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Liwa al-Haqq, Jaysh al-Sunna, Ajnad al-Sham, and Faylaq al-Sham.
The name of the coalition, the Army of Fatah, is a reference to the Muslim conquests that spread the faith through the Middle East starting in the seventh century.
If Idlib has fallen, it is the second provincial capital and major city lost by Assad's forces in the four-year civil war.
The city, which had a population of 165,000 before the conflict broke out, lies on a strategic motorway linking Damascus to Aleppo and is near the President’s coastal stronghold of Latakia.
The eastern city of Raqqa fell to rebels in March 2013 and subsequently taken over by Jabhat al-Nusra's rival Isis, which has declared it as the de-facto capital of its so-called Islamic State.
An Syrian military official quoted by state-run news agency Sana claimed the army was still engaged in “fierce battles” against “armed terrorist groups” to regain control in Idlib, adding that the opposing side suffered heavy losses.
Earlier, the agency said army troops directed strikes at fighters who tried to sneak into the area near the national museum and the industrial zone around the city’s eastern entrance.
In an indication of the gravity of the situation, Sana also said the army is repositioning forces and units in the city to face “thousands of terrorists crossing the border from Turkey.”
Idlib was the scene of battles in the early years of the Syrian civil war and became a rebel stronghold before they were ousted by the government in April 2012.
The latest humiliating losses in Idlib mark the second blow to government forces this week, after rebels, led by Jabhat al-Nusra, captured the ancient and strategic town of Busra Sham in southern Syria.
More than 220,000 people have been killed so far in the Syrian civil war, which began after protests during the 2011 Arab Spring grew increasingly violent during a government crackdown on dissent.
Additional reporting by agenciesReuse content