Syria regime advances with Russian air support
Syrian government forces captured a village from rebels in the central province of Hama Saturday as they pressed a ground operation backed by Russian air support.
In the northern Aleppo province, rebels battled to reverse an advance by the Islamic State group that brought the jihadists to within a few kilometres (miles) of Syria's second city.
And Washington said it would resume talks with Russia over ways to avoid military accidents in Syria's increasingly crowded airspace.
In Hama, regime forces seized Atshan village from opposition fighters, including Islamists and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, state television and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported heavy fighting around Atshan as they sought to push northwest and take a neighbouring hilltop.
With support from Russian air strikes, they appear to be targeting the town of Khan Sheikhun, just across the provincial border in Idlib and on a highway connecting Aleppo and Damascus.
The road is cut by rebel forces in several places north of Khan Sheikhun.
Hama province has been a key target for Russian air strikes that began on September 30, along with parts of the neighbouring provinces of Latakia and Idlib.
- Russia hits 'terrorist' camps -
The strikes appear intended to prevent any advance by the Army of Conquest alliance, which includes Al-Nusra, that holds Idlib and has sought to push into Hama and Latakia.
In Moscow, Russia's defence ministry said Saturday that its forces had hit 55 IS targets in the past 24 hours.
It said the latest strikes -- in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Raqa and Idlib provinces -- destroyed 29 training camps for "terrorists", 23 defensive positions, two command centres and an ammunition depot.
Rebels and their backers say Hama, Idlib and Latakia have little or no IS presence, and accuse Russia of targeting moderate and Islamist opposition fighters more than the jihadist group.
The Observatory also reported heavy fighting Saturday between government forces and rebels in northern Latakia province.
Russian warplanes struck both Latakia and Idlib Friday and Saturday, including a raid in Idlib that destroyed a base belonging to a rebel group that has received US weapons, it said.
In Aleppo province, Islamist rebels including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group recaptured one of several villages seized by IS in a Friday advance, the Observatory said.
The monitor added that rebels were battling to retake a second village from the jihadist group, which now has forces within 10 kilometres (six miles) of Aleppo city.
The IS offensive has brought the jihadists closer than ever to Aleppo, threatening to further complicate the situation in Syria's one-time commercial capital, long divided between government and rebel control.
- US-Russia airspace talks -
The regime holds western Aleppo and the rebels hold the city's east.
Elsewhere in the province, the Observatory said a powerful blast ripped through an explosives factory and weapons depot in the IS-held town of Al-Bab.
The cause of the explosion was unclear, although unidentified warplanes were seen overhead at around the time of the blast.
Russia's air campaign in Syria has angered rebels and their backers, while complicating efforts of the US-led coalition that is also targeting IS in the country.
On Friday, the Pentagon said it would resume talks with Moscow aimed at preventing military accidents in Syrian airspace, after it received a response to US proposals.
"Department leaders are reviewing the Russian response and talks are likely to take place as soon as this weekend," spokesman Peter Cook said.
Also Friday, Washington acknowledged it had decided to "pause" a controversial programme to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight IS.
© 2015 AFP