Insurgents have regained control of several villages in northwest Syria from government forces and have advanced beyond them, edging closer to a coastal stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, a monitoring group and other sources said on Sunday.

The insurgents launched a counter-offensive after government forces, backed by allied militant groups, last week recaptured the villages on the Sahl al-Ghab plain, which lies close to the city of Hama and is crucial to the defense of coastal mountains that are the heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

The insurgents’ ‘Army of Fatah’ alliance includes al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group and other factions. […]