Syrian troops take village in last rebel stronghold

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops captured on Monday a village in the last rebel stronghold in the northwest province of Idlib, while a government airstrike killed at least three people, opposition activists and state media said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the government forces had reached the village of Qassabiyeh under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes. The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media also confirmed that village's capture.

The Observatory said the battle left 25 militants and 12 pro-government fighters dead.

The latest fighting began a month ago, when Syrian troops advanced into the enclave from the south and unleashed a wave of intense bombing. The violence has displaced tens of thousands of people. The area is home to 3 million people, and is already overcrowded with refugees from the war.

Idlib province is the last area standing in President Bashar Assad's way as he seeks a final victory against the armed opposition after eight years of civil war.

Opposition activists reported airstrikes and shelling of other towns and villages in Idlib on Monday.

The Observatory said four people were killed and others wounded in an airstrike on a market in the town of Maaret al-Numan. The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets said the strike killed three and wounded 20.

Monday's violence came as the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian joint military operation "has used internationally banned and other indiscriminate weapons in unlawful attacks on civilians in northwest Syria in recent weeks."

It said the alliance has used banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in the attacks along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including "barrel bombs" in populated civilian areas.

"The Syrian-Russian military alliance is using a cocktail of internationally banned and indiscriminate weapons on a trapped civilian population," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

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