French and Malian forces have retaken the northern Malian cities of Gao and Timbuktu from Islamist rebels, security officials said Monday.

Coalition troops, backed by French warplanes, took the airport in Timbuktu early Monday and moved into the city center, which had been held by the Islamist rebels since June.

Some 250 paratroopers quickly took control of strategic locations across the city, a security spokesman told Efe.

The retaking of Timbuktu came shortly after the airport in the city fell to French-led forces and just two days after allied troops entered Gao, the largest city in northern Mali.

On Jan. 7, the Salafist armed groups controlling the northern part of Mali since June launched an offensive against the east-central city of Kona after unilaterally breaking the cease-fire they had agreed to with the central government.

Unable to halt the attack, the Malian army asked France, the former colonial power, for help and Paris sent combat aircraft to bombard rebel positions on Jan. 11.

French troops are on the ground fighting alongside Malian government forces. EFE