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Syria troops take back key village; 16 civilians killed


Syria’s army and its allies retook a village near Hama on Saturday, a Syrian military source said, as the government tries to turn back a major insurgent offensive, as least 16 civilians were killed and dozens wounded in an air strike on a rebel-held area outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

President Bashar Al Assad and his allies, Russia, Iran and militias from nearby countries, are seeking to staunch the biggest rebel assault in months which began this week in the capital Damascus and the Hama countryside.

Insurgents have made big advances towards Hama, taking about a dozen towns and villages and moving to within a few kilometres of the city and its military airbase, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said.

“Units of our armed forces and allied forces restored the town of Kawkab and continue their military operations in more than one direction of the northern Hama countryside,” the military source said.

The Observatory said rebels had been forced to withdraw under rocket fire from some of the positions they had occupied, but mutual shelling in parts of the Hama battlefront continued.

In Damascus, the army said on Friday it had managed to recapture all the positions it lost early in the week to rebels in the Jobar area, which is on the northeastern fringe of the central district of the capital.

The air strike on the prison killed prisoners and prison guards. The strikes were believed to have been carried out by Russian warplanes, which have been flying sorties in support of Assad’s government since Moscow began a military intervention in September 2015.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information, says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

It added that guards opened fire in the aftermath of the strike on fleeing prisoners, and there were initial reports of additional casualties in that fire.

Idlib city became the second provincial capital to fall from government control when it was captured in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest, an alliance led by former Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front.

Almost all the province remains under opposition control, and it has regularly been targeted by both Russian and government air strikes as well as raids launched by the US-led coalition fighting the Daish.

Earlier this month, the US-led coalition said it was investigating allegations at least 42 people were killed in a raid it carried out in Idlib.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began six years ago with anti-government protests.

A cessation of hostilities was brokered by rebel backer Turkey and Russia in December, but violence has continued across  the country.