BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops made advances on the ground in northern Syria on Monday, seizing a hilltop village and a nearby town from insurgents in the first breakthrough for President Bashar Assad’s forces following weeks of intensive air and artillery bombardment.
The area has been repeatedly targeted in recent days as Syria’s government looks to regain momentum in its stalled offensive against the last opposition-controlled stronghold in Syria. The rebel area encompasses Idlib province and the surrounding rural areas of Hama province.
At least 450 civilians have been confirmed killed in the three-month offensive, including more than 100 in the last 10 days alone, according to the U.N. human rights chief.
Over the last three years, the government has regained control of most of the territories that were initially seized by the opposition in the early days of the civil conflict — now in its 9th year. Those military victories, supported by Russian airpower and Iranian-backed militias on the ground, followed intense military campaigns and tight sieges that forced rebels to surrender and move north.
The Idlib region is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants and other jihadi groups, and is home to an estimated 3 million people, many of them displaced by other bouts of violence in other areas. The government, which launched its offensive in late April, says it is targeting terrorist locations.
Syria’s Central Military Media said troops captured the Tal Malah village and the nearby town of Jibeen on Monday after fierce confrontations with militants entrenched in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported the advances, saying government troops were able to seize the territory after militant groups withdrew, following intense air and ground shelling.
The area has changed hands several times over the past weeks in the offensive. More than 440,000 people have been displaced inside the crowded enclave to escape the airstrikes.