BEIRUT: Syrian 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.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Russia's Vladimir Putin on Friday that Syrian army attacks in northwest Syria are causing a humanitarian crisis and threaten Turkey's national security, the Turkish presidency said.
Erdogan told Putin, who has supported Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, that the attacks violated a ceasefire in Idlib and damaged efforts for a solution in Syria, the Turkish presidency said.
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.