Clashes in northwest Syria killed 22 regime fighters and extremist militants Sunday in the highest such death toll since the start of a two-month-old cease-fire there, a monitor said.
A truce since March 6 had largely stemmed fighting in Syria's last major opposition bastion of Idlib after a months-long regime assault that killed hundreds of civilians and forced almost a million to flee. But before dawn on Sunday, clashes erupted between some opposition groups and pro-regime fighters on the western flank of the region dominated by extremist groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The clashes in the Sahl al-Ghab area killed 15 regime fighters as well as seven extremists, including from the al-Qaida-affiliated Hurras al-Deen group, the Britain-based monitor said.
"It's the highest death toll for fighters since the truce came into force," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on sources inside Syria. "There had been intermittent clashes and mutual bombardment between both sides before, but this is the most violent attack yet."
The truce brokered by regime ally Russia and moderate opposition backer Turkey has kept Syrian and Russian warplanes out of the region's skies and largely held despite sporadic clashes or rocket fire.
Tens of thousands have returned to their hometowns. Hundreds of thousands of others remain in crowded displacement camps or in temporary shelters near the Turkish border.
Aid groups have warned that any outbreak of the novel coronavirus there would be devastating. Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.