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Syrian Troops Make Gains As Putin Defends Air Campaign

A Russian fighter jet drops a bomb during an air strike in Syria on October 9.

Syrian government forces have reportedly made significant advances against rebels, as President Vladimir Putin defended Russia's air campaign in Syria.

Both Damascus and opposition activists reported on October 11 the government gains in the northwestern province of Idlib and the neighboring province of Hama.

Syrian state television and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the government forces captured Tal Skik, a highland area in Idlib Province, with the help of Russian air strikes.

That brings Syrian government forces closer to rebel-held positions along the highway that links Syria's main cities. The area is held by a rebel alliance that excludes the Islamic State (IS) group.

In the northwest of Hama Province, regime troops and fighters from the allied Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hizballah are said to have captured the town of Al-Bahsa.

Abu Hamed, the head of the military bureau of Jabhat Sham, an insurgent group that operates mainly in Hama Province, said the Syrian Army made advances using tanks, heavy artillery, and new surface-to-surface missiles.

Meanwhile, Russia said on October 11 that its aircraft carried out more than 60 missions in the provinces of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, and Raqqa over the previous 24 hours, adding that the IS group was its main target.

In an interview broadcast on October 11 on Russia’s state-owned Rossia-1 television, Putin said Moscow's objective was to "stabilize the legitimate authority" of the Syrian president, and "create conditions for a political compromise" in Syria.

"When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital, then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital," he said.

Putin reiterated that Moscow will not deploy ground troops to Syria. He also denied that Russia's air strikes were hitting moderate opposition groups rather than IS militants.

Syrian opposition figures and Western governments say Russia has targeted rebel groups -- including some trained and equipped by the United States -- that are not linked to IS militants.

Washington accuses Assad of terrorizing his own population in his bid to remain in power and insists that he cannot be part of a postwar government in Syria.

Russia rejects the U.S. position, saying Assad and his military represent the best chance to defeat IS militants.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP,, Interfax, and Reuters
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