Syrian government forces seized control of the entire length of the main Aleppo-Damascus highway on Tuesday for the first time since 2012, after driving rebels from their last foothold on the road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The highway, the M5, runs all the way from Aleppo to Deraa in southern Syria. Government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, had seized control of the entire highway after capturing a western suburb of Aleppo from insurgents, the Observatory said.
On Saturday, Syrian government forces captured new areas from insurgents in their efforts to control a key highway in the northwest, as Turkey sent more reinforcements into the war-torn country, state media and opposition activists said.
The weekslong government offensive has created a humanitarian crisis with about 600,000 people fleeing their homes in Syria's last rebel stronghold since the beginning of December, according to the United Nations.
Rebels control much of Idlib province and parts of the neighboring Aleppo region that is home to some 3 million people – many of them displaced from other parts of Syria.
The Syrian offensive appears aimed for now at securing a strategic highway in rebel-controlled territory, as opposed to an all-out campaign to retake the entire province, including the city of Idlib, the densely populated provincial capital.
Syrian state TV reported Saturday that government forces captured four villages in Aleppo province near the highway. It added that Syrian troops and demining experts have cleared explosives and mines from the recently captured town of Saraqeb that sits on an intersection where the M5 meets with the M4 highway, linking Syria's coast with the country's east.