Syrian government troops gain more Aleppo ground before UNSC vote

Satellite dishes damaged by Islamic State militants are pictured inside a mosque in Turkman Bareh village, after rebel fighters advanced in the area, in northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Satellite dishes damaged by Islamic State militants are pictured inside a mosque in Turkman Bareh village, after rebel fighters advanced in the area, in northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Syrian government forces recaptured territory from insurgents in several western areas on Saturday as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on rival French and Russian draft resolutions urging an immediate ceasefire.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power and Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi fighters on the ground, hold the upper hand around the key battleground of Aleppo, whose opposition-held eastern sector has been encircled for all but a short period since July.

The government side’s bombardment of Aleppo since a ceasefire brokered by Washington and Moscow in September collapsed after a week has drawn condemnation from the United Nations and countries supporting the Syrian opposition.

France, which opposes Assad, demands in its draft resolution an end to air strikes and military flights over Aleppo city. It appears certain to be vetoed by Russia, which has backed Assad with a year-long air campaign against the rebels.

Russia’s draft, which does not include that demand, urges Moscow and Washington to revive the ceasefire deal.

Rebels also suffered setbacks further northeast near the Turkish border on Saturday, in fighting against Islamic State militants, British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Syrian government forces and their allies, backed by air raids, took over an area on Aleppo’s northern outskirts on Saturday, state media and the Observatory said.

The advance in the Awaija area strengthened their hold on areas surrounding rebel-held east Aleppo, the Observatory said.

Rebel official Zakaria Malahifji of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim faction denied there had been a government advance there.

But he did confirm government advances further south in Hama province, reported by pro-Damascus media and the Observatory.

The Syrian army and its allies recaptured several towns and villages from rebels in Hama’s northern countryside, reversing recent insurgent gains in the area.

Rebels had seized towns and villages north of Hama city after launching an offensive at the end of August in rare advances while insurgent factions were pressed elsewhere.

The government’s Hama advances were their first in the area since then, the Observatory said.

It said the government side had taken advantage of recent infighting between two Islamist insurgent groups in the countryside of Idlib, north of Hama’s provincial boundary.

In a separate government advance against insurgents near Damascus, the Syrian army and allied forces seized a large portion of the town of al-Hameh to the northwest of the Syrian capital, the Observatory said.

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