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Syrian army pushes into encircled rebel pocket in northwest

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Syrian army pushes into encircled rebel pocket in northwest
Syrian army soldiers gesture as they pose for a picture in Idlib countryside, Syria in this handout released by SANA on August 22, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS   -   Copyright  SANA(Reuters)
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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian army troops pushed deep into a pocket of territory in the northwest where they encircled rebels and a Turkish military post, seizing towns the insurgents have held for years, state TV and a monitor said on Friday.

The army has imposed “a choking siege” on the cluster of towns, with much of it coming either under army control or within firing range, state-run Ikhabriya TV said.

Soldiers captured a dozen hills, expanding state control of a main highway that runs through the area and stretches from the capital Damascus to Aleppo city, it added.

Several rebel officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government force, backed by Russia, recovered the town of Kafr Zita from rebels who had controlled it since 2012. A Turkish military post in the nearby town of Morek was now also encircled, the UK-based war monitor and state TV said.

Under its deals with Russia, Turkey has forces stationed at a dozen military posts in Idlib. The latest army advances have put Turkish troops in the firing line and threatened Ankara’s hopes of preventing a new wave of refugees on its border.

Ten of thousands of people have fled towards the Turkish border in recent days as air and ground attacks battered parts of Idlib and Hama in northwest Syria, the country’s last big rebel stronghold. The United Nations says the offensive has killed hundreds of people since it began in late April.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis,; Additional reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Turkey; Editing by William Maclean)

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