Nusra Front, the affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria, seized control of a large part of Idlib a city in northwest Syria on Saturday from government security forces. Nusra Front swept into neighborhoods near the center of the city said activists with the opposition.
The Nusra Front a group of rebels who are ultra-conservative is leading a big offensive that started earlier last week to take over Idlib, close to the Turkish border. If Idlib falls, to would become the second capital of a province and a big urban center lost by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad the leader of Syria.
The city of Raqqa to the east fell to the rebels in March of 2013, It was then taken over by a rival of Nusra, the Islamic State which since declared it their capital.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights based in Britain said that rebel fighters had seized control of the majority of Idlib in a big Friday push that continued into Saturday morning after forces from the government withdrew to their military bases and to other buildings with the city.
The group relies on a huge network of on-the-ground activists throughout Syria. It said that heavy fighting was continuing on Saturday amidst heavy artillery shelling by both sides.
Another activist collective that supports the opposition in Syria also has reported that large areas of Idlib were captured by rebels.
A military official from Syria, who was not named, was quoted as saying that forces for the government remained fighting fierce battles versus groups of armed terrorists to regain full control of Idlib.
He added that the opposition had suffered huge losses. Earlier the watchdog activists said army troops had directed strikes at the fighter who attempted to sneak into an area close to the national museum and an industrial zone close to the eastern Idlib entrance.
A loose alliance consisting of rebels against the government and Nusra Front members control large areas of Idlib province and have attempted to capture the capital of the province. The latest attempts look to be their most successful to date.