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Syria army seizes dozens of villages in advance on key base:

AFP  |  Beirut 

Syrian troops have recaptured dozens of towns and villages from jihadist fighters, a monitor said today, bringing them closer to a key airport in the country's northwest.

"In the past 24 hours, regime forces have taken at least 79 villages in the southern parts of province, an area near the Abu Duhur airport," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the of the Britain-based for Human Rights monitor.

Russia-backed regime troops are aiming to reach the Abu Duhur base as part of a weeks-long assault against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by Al-Qaeda's former affiliate.

The offensive has seen Syrian forces seize surrounding territory in the provinces of and Hama as they close in on Abu Duhur, which lies just inside the province.

They briefly broke into the air base this week from the south but were ousted in a ferocious counter-offensive by jihadists and rebels.

With the latest push in province, said, troops were seeking to open a new front on the airport's northern and eastern flanks.

"Regime troops lost control of those villages in southern Aleppo province in 2012," he said.

"They are advancing quickly now because of HTS's collapse, and the withdrawal of its fighters and those of other groups from the area," added.

Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the government, also reported that the was "encircling" the airport.

The airport straddles the border between Aleppo and Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control.

In addition to the base, the regime hopes to secure a key patch of highway running through that links the northern city of Aleppo with the capital further south.

Rebels and jihadists overran province over the course of several months in 2015, capturing Abu Duhur in September of that year.

Since then, the jihadist forces behind HTS have expanded their control in the province, with the influence of mainstream rebels shrinking drastically.

The fighting in Idlib has displaced nearly 100,000 people since early December, the has said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, January 14 2018. 20:25 IST