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Syrian Government Forces Gain Ground In Aleppo Province

The Syrian town of al-Bab shows the damage from recent fighting.
The Syrian town of al-Bab shows the damage from recent fighting.

Syrian state media say government troops have gained ground and widened their control over villages formerly held by Islamic State (IS) militants in the northern part of the country.

State-owned Ikhbariyah TV on March 4 quoted a military source as saying troops are making steady progress in pushing IS fighters out of cutoff areas in Aleppo province and are moving toward the Euphrates River.

Government forces, supported by Russian air strikes, have recaptured about 90 villages since mid-January from the IS fighters.

State news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying the army took 15 villages on March 4 alone.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces have advanced to 13 kilometers away from IS-held Khafsah, the water-pumping station for Aleppo, where residents have been without mains water for 47 days.

The Observatory said on March 4 that "more than 30,000 civilians, most of them women and children," have been forced to flee the fighting during the past week.

Government forces report they are advancing to the south and east of the strategically important town of al-Bab, which was captured from IS by Turkish-backed rebels on February 23.

Experts say one of the goals of the government offensive is to prevent the Turkish-backed fighters from extending their gains southward.

An estimated 300,000 people have been killed and millions of others have been displaced since the Syrian civil war started in 2011 between government forces and rebels opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, leading to a massive migrant crisis across Europe.

The conflict was later joined by the Islamic State fighters -- opposed by both sides -- which has served to complicate matters further.

Turkey and the United States support the main opposition forces, while Russia backs Assad's government.

Government troops, U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters and Turkey-supported rebels have separately made grounds against IS in recent weeks, steadily driving them out of areas they have held for more than two years.

IS seized large portions of Syria and northern Iraq in an offensive in 2014.

The militant group is accused of numerous atrocities, and has claimed responsibility for major terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere.

U.S.-backed forces have made major gains against IS fighters in Iraq as well, and are currently battling to liberate all of Mosul from IS fighters.

With reporting from Reuters and AFP
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