Syrian rebel fighters, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, captured the northwestern Syrian city of Jisr al-Shughour on Saturday, for the first time in the four-year-old conflict.
Syrian state media said the army had redeployed to the city's surroundings "to avoid civilian casualties." They said the army was battling "a large number of terrorists coming from the Turkish border."
The capture of the strategic city is the latest in a series of setbacks for government forces in the south and north.
Opposition fighters and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the city, on a road between the coastal city of Latakia and city of Aleppo, was now fully controlled by rebels.
"All of Jisr al-Shughour is now liberated, there is no more regime there," Ahmad of the media office of the armed group Ahrar Al-Sham, which is taking part in the battle, told Reuters.
After seizing the city, rebels continued their assault with the aim of pushing the army from the few remaining government areas in the province of Idlib.
Last month armed groups seized the city of Idlib, the capital of the province of Idlib near Turkey, after forming an alliance which includes Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, but not Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), their rival.
The alliance calls itself Army of Fatah, a reference to the conquests that spread Islam across the Middle East from the seventh century.
The allied groups agreed to unite in the battle for Jisr al-Shughour under the name "Battle for Victory." The formation of alliances by groups before major battles is one of the factors behind the advances, sources say.
By taking Jisr al-Shughour, the rebels have edged closer to the coastal province of Latakia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's stronghold, and are now less than 5 miles from villages loyal to the government near the coast.
"Jisr al-Shughour is more important than Idlib itself, it is very close to the coastal area which is a regime area, the coast now is within our fire reach," Ahmad from Ahrar Al-Sham said.
Syrian forces captured the city of Jisr al-Shughour in June 2011 when what the government described as armed gangs killed more than 120 security personnel in the city after large anti-government demonstrations there.
A rebellion in Jisr al-Shughour, home to 50,000 residents, in 1980 against President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, was crushed with scores of deaths.