An unexpected military effort in Northen Mali led by France since Friday has halted the advances of Ansar Dine jihadists in major cities including the capital, Bamako.
Algeria, which shares a long border with Mali, gave permission for its air space to be used for bombing raids "without limit" and ECOWAS has welcomed the French offensive.
According to French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, there had been a "spectacular acceleration" of jihadist groups since Thursday and had they not decided to intervene "Bamako would have fallen into the hands of the rebels in about two or three days".
"The Islamist offensive has been stopped. Blocking the terrorists ... we've done it. French fighter jets have identified and destroyed this Sunday, Jan. 13, numerous targets in Northen Mali near Gao, in particular training camps, infrastructure and logistical depots which served as bases for terrorist groups," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, said in a statement.
Sahara Media reports from neighbouring Mauritania indicate that fearing further French air raids, the jihadist fighters have moved out of the historic town of Timbuktu.
However, speaking to the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Swift, an expert on Northen Mali, suggested that the rebels may have gone back into their hideouts in the deserts to draw an unprepared Malian army into desert warfare.
"The fighting would start at the beginning of the summer hot season, which is to Aqim's advantage; it starts before the Malian army have had much time to reorganise and train, and most important it starts before the international troop are fielded."
But while the towns of Konna and Gao have been liberated, Northern Mali largely remains under the control of the Islamists who have come under heavy airstrikes. Other targets, including Douentza and Lere, have been bombed.
Late on Sunday, French forces, on their way to the military camp of Diabaly, some 400km from the country's capital, Bamako bombed the small locality of Agharous Kayoune, and Alatona. But reports say the rebels attacked and took Diabaly on Monday.
Meanwhile, the northern town of Kidal, the headquarters for Ansar Dine and its leader Iyad Ag Ghaly has also been targeted as support from the UK, which is providing C-17 aircraft, is due to provide logistical assistance.
Ansar Dine, armed with weapons stolen from the abandoned arsenal of ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, and weapons left behind by Mali's army, which abandoned the north in the face of the rebel advance last April, was plotting to battle Mali's military in the town of Mopti, before the international intervention.
Islamists fighters seized the territory in the north after a military coup led to political turmoil in southern Mali last March.
Under the Islamists, music, cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol are banned. Women are regularly flogged in public for offenses ranging from not covering their ankles to wearing perfume or make-up.
Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander for the al-Qaeda linked group said the attacks had only heightened the rebels' desire for jihad.
"Our jihadists are not a bunch of sheep waiting to be slaughtered inside a closed pen. France is going to reap the worst consequences possible from this. Now no French person can feel safe anywhere in the world. Every French national is a target," Hamaha told reporters.
France's decision to intervene in its former colony comes months before a UN-backed international force was expected. The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet to discuss the intervention which has been multilaterally supported.