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Rebels launch counterattack in northwest Syria - statement

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Rebels said they mounted a counterattack on Monday against government forces in northwestern Syria, ramping up battles in the country’s last major insurgent stronghold.

Britain, Germany and France called on Monday for an end to a renewed wave of violence in northwestern Syria which has killed more than 120 civilians.

An offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the biggest escalation in the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer.

The fighting has also hit parts of a buffer zone agreed in September under a Russian-Turkish deal that spared the region and its 3 million residents from an assault. The Turkish military has established about a dozen military positions in the region under its agreements with Russia.

An array of insurgents have a foothold in northwest Syria – Idlib province and a belt of territory around it. The most powerful is the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front which was part of al Qaeda until 2016.

Syrian state media said the army was thwarting attacks by militants in the Hama countryside near Idlib.

“A military operation began targetting the northern Hama countryside today” said a statement from the media office of the Jaish al Izza rebels. It said other factions taking part were Tahrir al-Sham and the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front.

(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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