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Syrian government troops advance in last rebel stronghold

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-allied Kurdish-led rebel group, patrol through the Islamic State-held village of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. SDF officials have said the extremists are clinging to an area less than a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz and preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving the area. (Aboud Hamam/DPA/Zuma Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Syrian government forces have captured several rural settlements in the northwestern province of Idlib, as they continue an offensive into the country’s last rebel stronghold, state media and a war monitor said on January 26.

At least six villages in the Idlib countryside have fallen to government forces over the past two days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Backed by Russian air strikes, government troops on January 26 reached the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan, 33 kilometers south of the city of Idlib, on an important highway that connects Damascus to Aleppo.

Syrian state TV said government forces had captured the village of Ghadqa near Maaret al-Numan earlier in the day.

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Opposition activists said government troops are now less than a kilometer away from Maaret al-Numan.

According to the activists and paramedics, Maaret al-Numan is now almost empty as many residents have fled amid intense bombardments in recent weeks.

Idlib Province is home to some 3 million civilians and the United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe there.

Turkey said on January 24 that around 400,000 people from Idlib Province were moving toward the Turkish border as a result of the surge in violence.