DAMASCUS, May 13 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian Army has so far captured 13 villages and towns in the northern countryside of Hama province in central Syria following two-week long battles with the rebels, a war monitor reported on Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that intense battles are taking place in the northern countryside of Hama between the Syrian Army and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the umbrella group of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
The Britain-based watchdog group said the battles are part of the escalation that has started since April 30.
Meanwhile, the battles between the rebels and the Syrian Army were also reported in the northern countryside of Latakia province near the northern countryside of Hama and Idlib provinces.
Hundreds of rockets and shells targeted the rebel-held areas in the Akrad Mountain in the countryside of Latakia, said the observatory.
The battles have killed 16 government soldiers and 19 rebels over the past 24 hours in Akrad Mountain.
The Syrian Army has started an operation against the HTS in the northern countryside of Hama province in central Syria and the nearby Idlib province late last month.
The Syrian government said the attacks are a response to the rebels' attacks and infiltration attempts into Syrian military sites in that region.
Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria and is now controlled by the HTS.
Areas in the countryside of Hama, Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo are included in the de-escalation zones deal which was reached between Russia and Turkey in September 2018.
The deal failed to materialize as the HTS expanded in Idlib and started attacks on Syrian military positions instead of withdrawing from the designated zone which combines Idlib with Hama and Aleppo countryside.