BEIRUT - Syrian troops backed up by helicopters advanced on Thursday into the rebellious northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, activist residents said, one of many fronts being contested by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and pro-democracy rebels.
"(Syrian forces) have entered the town from the southern side. They are burning houses and farms," activist Abu al-Ghaith al-Khani said by Skype, adding that 80 percent of the town's residents had fled.
Rebel fighters suffered heavy loses during battles late on Wednesday night in Khan Sheikhoun, a town in rural Idlib province that straddles the strategic western highway linking Damascus and Aleppo.
Activists said government forces had bombarded the town with mortar bombs on Wednesday night in advance of their assault. They gave an initial death toll of nine people but added that more people might be dead as communication with the area was difficult.