Footage of battles in northwestern Syria from Qasioun News Agency (Twitter/@JulianRoepcke)
Clashes between rebel fighters and government forces backed by Russian warplanes killed 66 people on the edge of Syria's northwestern Idlib province, a monitor said on Friday.
Over 24 hours of fighting in an area straddling Idlib and Hama provinces, at least 19 civilians, including seven children, were killed by air strikes, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said 27 soldiers and members of allied paramilitary units were killed in the fighting as well as 20 anti-government combatants from Islamist rebel groups.
The fresh violence in the area appeared to signal the initial phase of a major government operation against Idlib, the only province in the country that has completely escaped government control.
An AFP correspondent near the fighting said aerial activity was intense and the entire area had been rocked by frequent air strikes.
Rebel leaders issued warnings through loudspeakers informing remaining civilians in the area that Friday prayers were cancelled and that all residents should stay at home.
Hundreds of civilians fled the scattering of villages in the area, creating queues of cars and pick-up trucks heading towards the city of Idlib loaded with bags and furniture.
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