More than 40 people were reported killed in violence across Syria on Tuesday, including 23 members of the security forces, as a pro-government daily said the regime had captured the rebel city of Idlib.
"Twelve members of the security services who headed for the town of Dael to carry out arrests were killed... when their vehicle was ambushed by a group of armed deserters," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The attack in the southern region of Daraa was the second deadly ambush the same day on the military, which has led a year-long crackdown on dissent that activists say has cost more than 8,500 lives.
As the regime battles to mop up resistance, Syria's Al-Watan newspaper said government forces had recaptured the rebel stronghold of Idlib city in the northwest, following what activists said were three days of heavy shelling.
"A major operation launched three days ago in Idlib... ended in record time with army units wrapping up search operations during which dozens of armed men and fugitives were killed," the daily said.
Activists acknowledged the army had deployed in the city but said they faced pockets of resistance by rebel fighters.
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"The army has taken up positions at main intersections but one cannot say that it controls the whole city as it has avoided deploying in some neighbourhoods," said Milad Fadl, a militant reached by AFP in Beirut.
The Observatory said the army had shelled several districts of Idlib on Tuesday, leaving an unknown number of casualties. Clashes were taking place in pockets of resistance, it said.
There were fears that Idlib could meet the same fate as the Baba Amr rebel neighbourhood in the central city of Homs that suffered a month-long blitz by government forces before its capture on March 1.
The Observatory said that elsewhere in Idlib province, located near the Turkish border, at least 10 Syrian soldiers were killed in a pre-dawn rebel attack on an army checkpoint in the town of Maaret al-Numan.
Seven civilians, including a 14-year-old youth, were killed in Maaret al-Numan, the Britain-based group said, adding that army troops gunned down six of them in a car transporting wounded people.
The group, whose reports could not be verified due to government curbs on foreign media, also said that eight civilians were killed in and around the city of Homs, including a woman in Tal Kalakh, near the Lebanese border.
A civilian died in Idlib province as security forces opened up with heavy machine gunfire and another four in the Damascus region.
One civilian and a member of the security forces were killed in the northern province of Aleppo after fierce clashes between security forces and armed rebel groups in the town of Aazaz.