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Rebels advance in Syria's southern province

Damascus: Armed militant groups, including Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, advanced in Syria's southern province of Qunaitera, as the Syrian troops stripped the rebels of key towns in the central province of Hama, activists said Saturday.

The Nusra Fighters and like-minded groups were advancing in Qunaitera, at the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the various rebel groups were now in control of over 80 percent of that province after taking control over the towns of Rawadi and Hamidiyeh a day earlier.

The Syrian troops were still in control of over four towns in Qunaitera, according to the activists.

The Observatory said the Syrian troops and its allies were trying to recapture the areas they lost to the rebels in Qunaitera which could be the second province to spin out of the government control since the Syrian troops totally lost the province of Al Raqqa to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The state-run SANA news agency reported that the Syrian troops targeted rebel positions in the Um Batneh and Bir Ajam in Qunaitera, killing many "terrorists".

The troops also pummeled the positions of the rebels in the towns of Nabe Sakher and Hamidiyeh in the same province, the report said.

The clashes in Qunaitera have been raging since late last month when the rebels unleashed a wide-scale offensive against government troops' positions.

The Syrian troops Saturday wrested back control of at least three towns in the central province of Hama, just a day after the army fully recaptured the town of Halfaya, which was deemed as a main stronghold for the Nusra Front fighters in the central region.

The army's recapture of the Halfaya is crucial given the importance of the town's location in the central region and enables the Syrian troops to cut the supply lines of the rebels in the countryside of Hama.

According to the UN, the conflict in Syria has led to more than 190,000 deaths. Three million people have fled to neighbouring countries in search of refuge, while another 6.5 million displaced inside their conflict-ridden homeland.

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