Syrian regime breaks IS siege on key Aleppo airbase
Syrian regime troops and pro-government militias have broken a two year-long siege on Kweres airbase in Aleppo by Islamic State group militants.
A group of soldiers broke through IS lines west of the Kweres airport and reached regime troops inside the base, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
Troops fired into the air in celebration, he said.
State television also reported the breakthrough and broadcast live from outside the airport, hailing the advance as a victory.
It said a "large number of IS terrorists" were killed.
Kweres has been besieged by IS since spring 2014, but was surrounded by rebel groups before that.
IS fighters are still present in other areas around the base.
It comes after the regime managed to capture the village of Sheikh Ahmad in the Aleppo province on Monday, Syria's State news agency SANA reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the report, which tracks the conflict, saying troops captured the village and advanced to a point two kilometres from the Kweres air base.
However, Today website has reported that a news flash was screened on Syrian state TV saying that the siege of Kweres has not been broken.
The observatory, which relies on local activists, says troops advanced under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes.
If the reports are true, then breaking the siege imposed on Kweres nearly two years ago would be a major success for government forces, which launched a multi-pronged offensive after Russia began carrying out airstrikes on 30 September.
'Strategic strikes' on IS
The Russian defence ministry said in a statement Monday Russia's air force struck 448 targets throughout Syria over the last three days.
Targets hit included a repair workshop for armoured vehicles near Kfar Nabouda in Hama province, which belonged to al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front.
Other targets said to belong to the al-Nusra Front were a command centre in Zarbe, a training camp near Kweres east of Aleppo and a "large munitions stockpile" near Maheen in Homs province.
The air force also said it bombed IS stronghold Raqqa, where two more munitions stockpiles were "completely destroyed."
Among other targets was a position used by al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front for launching mortar attacks in Latakia and a stockpile of rockets in the mountains near Damascus kept by IS, it said.
It added that militant groups have "changed their tactics" by constantly "changing the arms and munitions delivery routes" and moving at night.
The ministry claimed that some of the information on the targets had come from the "Syrian opposition" but did not specify which groups it had worked with.
Meanwhile, the French bombed an oil supply centre held by IS in eastern Syria Sunday, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced Monday.
"We intervened in Syria ... yesterday evening with a strike on an oil supply center near Deir Az-Zor on the border between Iraq and Syria," Le Drian told journalists on the sidelines of a forum on African peace and security in Dakar, Senegal.
The two-hour operation involved two fighter jets based in Jordan. It was conducted in coordination with France's allies in the region, the defence ministry announced Monday in a statement.
It was France's third wave of strikes in Syria since President Francois Hollande decided in September to join the campaign there against IS.
The two previous waves targeted training camps for foreign militants who were suspected of preparing attacks in France.
Hollande Thursday said operations would be expanded to include "all those sites from which terrorists could threaten our territory."
He also announced last week the country's aircraft carrier is to be deployed soon in the Gulf to assist the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria.
On Monday as well, the United States and its allies conducted 13 strikes against IS in Syria Sunday, the coalition leading the operations said in a statement.
The strikes near four cities hit a petroleum junction point as well as two gas and oil separation plants controlled by the militant group, the statement from the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operations said.