At least 60 members of the Syrian government forces were killed during a broad offensive by al-Qaida-linked militants on a northwestern Syrian town, a monitoring group said Saturday.
Officers were among those who were killed during the attack by the Nusra Front and several hard-line militant groups against the Jisr al-Shughour town in the countryside of Idlib province, close to Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants were heavily shelling the town amid ongoing clashes with the "remaining pockets" of the government forces in the western part of the town.
The Observatory and other activists said the Nusra Front and like-minded groups stormed Jisr al-Shughour on Saturday, just days after the extremist groups announced the commencement of the battle for capturing the town.
Meanwhile, the state-news agency SANA said the government forces in that battered town regrouped at the outskirts to avert the fall of civilians in the battles.
It said the forces reinforced their defenses near Jisr al-Shughour, dealing intensive strikes on the supply lines of the militants in the town.
The Syrian forces killed large numbers of the militants, who had been infiltrating into the town from Turkey, SANA added.
The push toward Jisr al-Shughour came less than a month since the al-Qaida affiliates captured the city of Idlib, limiting the government control to some towns in the countryside of Idlib.
The offensive also signifies the militants' resolve to expand their control to the entire province of Idlib, just a couple of years after Daesh group captured the northern city of al-Raqqa.
The predominantly-Sunni Jisr al-Shughour was one of first areas to spiral out of the government control when the crisis began in 2011, following the killing of 140 Syrian soldiers back then. The Syrian forces later recaptured the town.
Meanwhile, photos and video footage appeared on the opposition TVs Saturday, purporting to show the jihadist militants in the streets of Jisr al-Shughour.