Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way

BEIRUT: 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 insurgents 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 air strikes, 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 insurgents hold their last strongholds. Government air strikes 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 air strikes in southern areas of Idlib province. The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward 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. – Reuters d_unknown”:”0″,”daily_received_length_with_data_reduction_proxy_enabled_video”:”0″,”last_update_date”:”13226353200