Syrian troops advanced in their offensive to retake territory around the northern city of Aleppo Saturday, backed by Iranian troops and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah. A military source told Reuters that "hundreds" of support troops were involved.
The campaign around Aleppo, which the army launched on Friday, is one of several assaults it has waged against rebel fighters since Russian jets began carrying out airstrikes on September 30 in support of the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Control of the city, Syria's largest before the civil war started in 2011, has been divided between government forces and various rebel groups since 2012.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the combined army retook three villages, with clashes resulting in the deaths of least 25 fighters. The Observatory also reported that troops are trying to advance to the east of Aleppo toward Kweires military airport, aiming to break a siege on the base by Islamic State and other insurgents.
Watch VICE News' 'The Battle for Aleppo.'
Russian aircraft have conducted 36 sorties and hit 49 Islamic State targets in the last 24 hours in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. In addition to the area around Aleppo, targets were reportedly hit in and around Hama, Idlib, Latakia, and Damascus.
The army and its allies have also been fighting to retake parts of the northern provinces of Hama, Idlib and Latakia seized by rebels in recent months, as well as insurgent areas north of Homs city, around the capital Damascus, and in the southern province of Deraa near the Jordanian border.
Also on Saturday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Iran to use its influence over Assad to move toward an end to the Syrian civil war. Steinmeier is in the midst of a four-day trip to the Middle East — he travels to Saudi Arabia on Sunday — on which he's exploring ways to bring Tehran and Riyadh into talks to reach a solution to the four-year-old Syrian conflict.
"My wish is that Iran uses its influence in the government and on Assad and his entourage so that we take the first steps towards a de-escalation in Syria," Steinmeier said in Tehran on the first official visit to Iran by a German foreign minister in more than 10 years.
Though Germany is not taking part in any military action in Syria, it is providing weapons and training to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in neighboring Iraq.
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