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Syrian Army Close To Recapturing Key Rebel Stronghold

The Syrian Army is close to recapturing a rebel stronghold in the southern province of Deraa with help from Russian air strikes, a monitoring group says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting is now concentrated outside the town of Sheikh Maskin, which lies at a crossroads linking the provinces of Suwaida, Quneitra, and Damascus to the southern part of the country. It also links eastern and western Deraa.

"The town is very important for both sides. They have both fought fiercely. Now by taking it, the regime has cut off the rebels links between eastern and western Deraa," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, which tracks the violence in the country through a wide network of local sources.

"The destruction in the town is huge," he told Reuters.

The army launched its offensive against insurgents in Sheikh Maskin late last month with support from dozens of air strikes by Russian and Syrian warplanes.

Southern Syria is the last major stronghold of the so-called mainstream insurgents who have been weakened elsewhere by the ultra-hard-line Islamic State group in the east and north, and gains by the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's wing in Syria, in the northwest.

The Syrian Army has been gaining ground since Russia started supporting its ally with air strikes in September.Before the move into Daraa, the regime had recaptured several key rebel towns in coastal Latakia Province, and was advancing in the northern province of Aleppo.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP