DAMASCUS, June 3 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army on Monday advanced in the battles against the rebel groups in Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, a war monitor reported.
For the first time since the army started its wide-scale offensive in northwestern Syria in late April, the army units advanced in the southern countryside of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The UK-based watchdog group said that intense battles are taking place between the army and the rebels of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the southern countryside of Idlib.
It said the Syrian army advanced and captured a farm and a town after heavy shelling and airstrikes, adding that the rebels are trying to retake the fallen areas.
The Observatory said that nine rebels were killed as well as four Syrian soldiers in the battles Monday.
It said that that the Syrian warplanes carried out 89 air raids on Monday against the rebel positions in Idlib and the nearby Hama countryside.
These areas of the countryside of Hama, Idlib and the Aleppo countryside are included in a de-escalation zones' deal established in September 2018 by Russia and Turkey.
The deal didn't materialize as battles have escalated since late April.