Syrian regime captures key Idlib rebel-held town
Soldiers entered the town on Tuesday for the first time since 2012, under the cover of heavy bombardment that caused thousands more to flee from the regime onslaught.
"Maarat Al-Numan is completely destroyed and its population has been displaced and is living in uncertainty," a rescue worker said on a video posted to social media.
In 2011, Maarat al-Numan was one of the first towns in the northwestern province of Idlib to rise up against the President Bashar al-Assad's regime and was later captured by an opposition alliance.
It lies on a key highway connecting the capital to second city Aleppo and has long been in the sights of the regime.
Regime media said the military was now bent on "hunting down all remaining armed terrorist groups, until all Syrian soil has been cleansed of terrorism", the army spokesman said in a televised statement.
A reporter for Syria's state-run SANA news agency said that opposition fighters and other insurgents retreated north towards Sarakeb and Ariha.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the government's advance into the south of Idlib province, seeking safety closer to the Turkish border further north.
Regime forces, which now control around 70 percent of Syria, have repeatedly vowed to recapture the entire country, including Idlib province.
The civil war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced more than half the country's population since it erupted following the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.