Syrian Forces Advance in Aleppo, Airstrikes Underway
The Syrian army said on Monday it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo's northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups "wherever they are found".
The advances were made after President Bashar al-Assad's forces drove opposition fighters from the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, reopening the fastest route between Syria's two biggest cities for the first time in years in a big strategic gain for Assad.
Backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, the government forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province where anti-Assad fighters hold their last strongholds.
Regime airstrikes on Monday hit Darat Izza, near the Turkish border about 30 km (20 miles) north of Aleppo city, wounding several civilians and forcing two hospitals to close, according to hospital staff.
Witnesses also reported airstrikes in southern areas of Idlib province.
The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing towards the border with Turkey in the biggest single displacement of the nine-year-old war.
It has also upset the fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing factions in the conflict.
Turkey and Russia began a new round of talks in Moscow on Monday after several demands by Ankara that Assad's forces should back down and a ceasefire be put in place.
Moscow has Russia defended its attack alongside the Syrian regime forces in Syria's Idlib province.
Both the Russian Armed Forces and the country's advisers will "support the Syrian Arab Republic armed forces in their fight against terrorism," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a briefing on Monday, adding that the Russian government "still regrets that these terrorists have revitalized in Idlib."
The statement follows US President Donald Trump's recent call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which Trump "expressed concern over the violence in Idlib."
Trump also hoped that Russia would stop supporting the atrocities of the Assad regime.
Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw from Idlib by the end of the month. On Saturday, he appeared to move that date forward, saying Turkey would "handle it" before the end of the month if there was no pull-back.
Alarmed by the new refugee crisis on its border, Turkey has sent thousands of troops and hundreds of convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.