Syria army advances towards rebel town of Tal Rifaat
BEIRUT - Syrian government troops advanced Sunday toward a rebel town near the Turkish border as they pressed a Russian-backed offensive that has prompted tens of thousands to flee, a monitor said.
The town of Tal Rifaat is around 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) from the Turkish frontier, where Syrians who have fled fighting near Aleppo city have been gathering since the assault was launched Monday.
It is one of the last rebel strongholds in the north of Aleppo province and government troops are just seven kilometres away, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said regime troops want to push north to the border with Turkey to prevent rebels and weapons from entering Syrian territory.
Syrian pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said Sunday that Tal Rifaat would be a major prize for the regime.
"If it falls, the army will be able to progress and seize control of all of the northern part of Aleppo province," the paper said.
Regime forces backed by intense Russian air strikes have closed in on Aleppo city in their most significant advance since Moscow intervened in September in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Syria's mainstream rebels are now threatened with collapse after the regime severed their main supply line to Aleppo city.
Opposition forces along with roughly 350,000 civilians are in rebel-held areas of the divided city of Aleppo and face the risk of a government siege.
Punitive blockades have been employed elsewhere in the nearly five-year civil war, causing dire humanitarian situations including starvation.
Since Saturday night government forces have surrounded the rebel bastion of Daraya in Damascus province.