Syrian airstrikes hit small town near Turkish border, killing at least 34, activists say


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BEIRUT — Two activist groups say Syrian government airstrikes on a small town near the Turkish border have killed at least 34 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Jish al-Shughour activist coordinating committee both reported the air raids Sunday on Darkoush, which is located 2 kilometers (1 mile) from the Turkish frontier.

Both activist groups put the death toll at 34. The Observatory said the tally could rise because many people were seriously wounded.

A third group, the Local Coordinating Committees activist collective, said that dozens were killed and wounded but did not provide a breakdown of the figures.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Syrian military aircraft bombed the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday, a day after insurgents seized control of it as part of a broader offensive that has left government forces in the area reeling.

The opposition campaign, spearheaded by the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front and Islamic rebel factions, has captured the two largest urban centers in Idlib province in the span of a month. President Bashar Assad's troops have been unable to wrest back any of the ground lost, despite attempts to mount a counteroffensive.

The Local Coordination Committees activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday's airstrikes — up to 20 of them, according to the Observatory — targeted the town of Jisr al-Shughour. There was no immediate word on casualties.

An airstrike on the town of Darkoush, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Jisr al-Shughour, killed and wounded dozens of people, both activist groups said.

The Syrian military has been relying heavily on its airpower to try to stanch the opposition tide, and carried out dozens of airstrikes on Jisr al-Shughour and the surrounding area on Saturday. The Observatory said at least 27 people, including at least 20 fighters, were killed in such strikes on Saturday alone.

The main fighting front is now located some 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of town, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman. Rebels have been attacking government positions in a sprawling agricultural plain south of Jisr al-Shughour as part of the wider offensive.

Syria's state news agency said the army ambushed a "convoy of terrorists" along a road in the plain, known as Sahel al-Ghab, destroying six vehicles and killing those inside. The government refers to those trying to topple Assad as terrorists.

The fight for Jisr al-Shughour began Wednesday and activists have said thousands of fighters took part in the offensive, which first targeted military facilities and checkpoints before seizing the town itself. With the fall of Jisr al-Shughour, the government is left with a presence in only a few towns and villages in Idlib province, as well as military bases.

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