Syria reclaims territory in NW

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops seized control of a string of villages in the northern countryside of Hama province, completing their takeover of the formerly rebel-held region just south of Idlib province for the first time since 2012, the Syrian army and a war monitoring group said Friday.

The army said troops seized the villages of Latamneh, Latmeen, Kfar Zeita and Lahaya, as well as the village of Morek, where Turkey maintains an observation post, pressing ahead its offensive toward Idlib.

The army advance represents the latest in a series of losses for rebels who have, for eight years, fought to topple Assad. It leaves his forces poised to focus on reclaiming Idlib province, near the border with Turkey, the last territory controlled by the opposition.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported Friday that government troops were in control of the entire northern Hama countryside after capturing a series of towns and villages. Syrian TV showed troops walking freely inside these villages.