A coalition of Syrian rebels and militants seized a village from regime forces near Aleppo overnight, a monitoring group and rebel sources said on Friday, gaining important ground near the city where the U.S. and Russia are trying to de-escalate the war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 73 people had been killed in the battle for Khan Touman, some 15 km (9 miles) southwest of Aleppo in a location near the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Among the dead were at least 43 insurgents and 30 pro-regime fighters, said the Britain-based monitoring group.
While multiple rebel sources said the town had been captured, a Syrian army source denied Khan Touman had fallen.
The attack was launched by an alliance of Islamist insurgents known as Jaish al-Fatah, including Al-Nusra Front, which has rejected diplomatic efforts to halt the war and promote peace talks.
The offensive signals the reemergence of the powerful Jaish al-Fatah.
The Observatory said other non-jihadist rebels fought for Khan Touman on the side of the coalition, too.
Washington and Moscow this week brokered a ceasefire in the city of Aleppo itself, where some 300 people have been killed in the last two weeks in regime- and rebel-held areas as a result of air strikes and shelling.
“Throughout the night the battles were very intense,” said Abu al-Baraa al-Hamawi, a fighter from the Ajnad al-Sham group, one of the factions taking part in the attack. “Areas south of Khan Touman have been liberated,” he told Reuters.
Aleppo-area opposition media activist Bahaa al-Halaby said the insurgents took control of Khan Touman around 7 a.m.
Meanwhile, Bashar Assad’s forces denied that regime warplanes had conducted air strikes targeting a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border on Thursday which killed at least 28 people.
“There is no truth to reports … about the Syrian air force targeting a camp for the displaced in the Idlib countryside,” the forces said in a statement on Friday carried by state media.
The Observatory said Thursday women and children were among the casualties from the strike that hit the camp in rebel-held territory near Sarmada.
France on Friday condemned the air strikes, demanding a probe into what it termed a “revolting and unacceptable act that could amount to a war crime or crime against humanity.”
“Those who are responsible will have to be brought to justice,” France’s foreign ministry spokesman said.
Next week, France will host a meeting of ministers from countries that support Syrian opposition groups, together with Syrian opposition figure Riad Hijab, to seek ways to break the political and military deadlock in the country.