Syria regime seizes dozens of towns in Aleppo province
Syrian regime forces have recaptured dozens of towns and villages from rebels in the country's northwest, bringing them closer to a key military airport.
Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by Russia, launched an offensive at the end of 2017 to capture Idlib province, the last remaining area still fully outside of the regime's control.
Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by a group known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), consisting mostly of fighters from a former al-Qaeda affiliate.
"In the past 24 hours, regime forces have taken at least 79 villages in the southern parts of Aleppo province, an area near the Abu Duhur military airport," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
This week regime forces briefly broke into the airbase from the south but were ousted in a ferocious counter-offensive by rebels.
With the latest push in Aleppo province, Abdel Rahman said, regime 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' collapse, and the withdrawal of its fighters and those of other groups from the area," Abdel Rahman added.
Syrian daily al-Watan, which is close to the regime, also reported that the army was "encircling" the airport.
The airport straddles the border between Aleppo and Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control.
The regime hopes to secure a key patch of highway running through Idlib that links the northern city of Aleppo with the capital Damascus further south.
Rebels overran Idlib province over the course of several months in 2015, capturing Abu Duhur in September of that year.
Since then, 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 United Nations has said.