The Syrian army and its allies on Sunday drove Islamic State (IS) group militants from several villages east of Aleppo, a military media unit run by Hezbollah and a war monitor reported, bringing them closer to territory held by Turkey-backed rebels.
Several overlapping conflicts are being fought in Syria, dragging in regional and global powers as well as the government and local groups, complicating the battlefield in the north of the country and raising the risk of an escalation in the war.
The main struggle in Syria’s civil war is between President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran, Russia and Shia militias including the Lebanese Hezbollah, against rebels that include groups backed by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the US.
However, both those sides, as well as a separate group of Kurdish-led militias, are also fighting against IS and retaking territorythe militant group controls in northern Syria.
The army and its allies captured the villages of Sora, Moran, Surja al-Saghira and Surja al-Kabira, located about 16km southwest of al-Bab and roughly the same distance east of Aleppo.
Rebels supported by Turkish jets, armour and special forces are attempting to capture al-Bab from IS after reaching its northern outskirts a month ago.
Although Turkey has long been one of the biggest supporters of anti-Assad rebels, its entry into Syria last summer was aimed at pushing IS from its border and at stopping Kurdish groups linking two enclaves they control along the frontier.
Last week, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek appeared to soften Ankara’s position against Assad, saying it was no longer realistic to demand a resolution of the conflict without his involvement.
Central Syria air strikes
Meanwhile, three government air strikes on rebel-held areas in the central Syrian province of Homs on Sunday killed nine civilians, six of them children, a monitoring group said.
Two strikes hit the village of Taldo in the Houla region, killing eight civilians including five children, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
A third strike targeted the nearby village of Kafrhala, also in the Houla region, and killed a child, said the head of the Britain-based monitoring group.
Rebel fighters hold large parts of the northern Homs countryside where Sunday’s strikes took place.