Rebels with the Free Syrian Army clash with government forces in Aleppo, Syria, on Sept. 2, 2012. The Syrian military launched a fresh assault against rebel positions in Aleppo province on Sunday, seizing several villages south of the provincial capital. It is the fourth offensive put forth by government forces across the country since Russia began flying airstrikes in support of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in late September 2015. File photo by UPI | License Photo
ALEPPO, Syria, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- The Syrian military, backed by Russian airstrikes, has launched a new offensive against rebels in the country's northwestern Aleppo province.
Syrian state news reported regime forces on Sunday captured several villages in the eastern countryside of the province and southwest of the city of Aleppo.
Xinhua news agency, quoting a local military source, reported the Syrian military is closing in on a power plant and air base in the area.
The fresh assault is the fourth launched by the Syrian armed forces since Russia began conducting airstrikes in support of its regional ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in late September. Last week the Syrian military, backed by the Russians and Hezbollah, reportedly made gains against rebel positions in the Hama, Latakia and Idlib provinces.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday said over the previous 24 hours it flew 39 combat sorties and performed 60 strikes on 51 rebel positions in the Hama, Latakia, Damascus and Aleppo provinces.
Syrian state news, meanwhile, reported three leaders from militant groups fighting in Aleppo -- including a Saudi commander in al-Qaida's Syria branch, the Nusra Front -- were killed during operations there.
Analysts say the Syrian military is attempting to use Russian firepower to help it shore up a series of losses to insurgent forces throughout the year. Islamic State advances in central and southern Syria and an allied rebel offensive in the northwest had pushed pro-Assad forces into defensive positions in the western edge of the country.
News of the Aleppo offensive comes the same day the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group monitoring the conflict, reported an airstrike by unidentified war planes killed at least 40 IS fighters as they traveled by convoy from their stronghold in Raqqa province into the eastern countryside of Hama province.
The BBC reported SOHR officials said the strike could have been Syrian or Russian in origin but was not conducted by the U.S.-led coalition, which has bombed IS forces in Syria for more than a year, operating independently from Russia and the Syrian military.