DAMASCUS, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- The al-Qaida-linked militants captured 13 villages during the current battles with the Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syria, as the latter declared mobilization to face the al-Qaida-linked groups and retake all the fallen areas, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV reported on Wednesday.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the umbrella group of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, attacked several villages on Wednesday and succeeded to advance in the battles against the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), an alliance of Turkey-backed rebels, in the western countryside of Aleppo province in northern Syria, according to the report.
For its side, the NLF called in a statement Wednesday for mobilization and raised the alert among its fighters and allied groups to face the HTS and retake the areas fallen to the al-Qaida-linked militants in the western countryside of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said tens of people and fighters were killed in the first 24 hours of the battles, which started this week. It added that the fighting has started to expand to areas in the nearby Idlib Province in northwestern Syria.
The HTS, the observatory said, has a large number of fighters but has no public support.
The Britain-based watchdog group said the HTS aims to capture more areas in the western countryside of Aleppo to consolidate its positions and squash rival rebel groups including in Idlib, where the HTS enjoys considerable sway.
It's worth noting that areas in the western countryside of Aleppo are included in the de-escalation zones' deal reached between Turkey and Russia in September last year.
For its side, the Syrian army has been targeting over the past two days positions of the al-Qaida-linked groups in northern countryside of Hama province, said state news agency SANA.
The official agency said the army carried out "precise strikes" on positions of the "terrorists" who were sneaking toward military positions in the northern countryside of Hama in the areas included in the de-escalation zones' deal.