Activists say Syrian government troops have made advances against rebel fighters with the backing of Russian air strikes. Russia's Defense Ministry says its air force has flown 64 sorties in Syria in 24 hours.
Government forces have made new territorial gains on two fronts in Syria, an activist group monitoring the country's civil conflict said on Sunday.
Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had advanced both in central Hama province around the Damascsu-Aleppo highway and in the northern part of Latakia province, a government stronghold, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The group said there was also intense fighting between insurgents and Syrian troops in southern Idlib, a province that is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups.
In Hama, government troops have seized three villages east of the highway and were looking to gain control of an area to its west, the Observatory said.
"This offensive is intended to confront the rebels in the Sahl al-Ghab plain that is at the intersection of Hama, Latakia and Idlib provinces," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Regime forces in northern Latakia also took the village of Kafr Dalba, and are trying to capture a strategic mountainous area in the region, according to the Observatory and other sources on the ground.
The government forces are being supported in their efforts by air strikes by the Russian air force, which began an aerial offensive in Syria on September 30.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that Russian warplanes had destroyed 53 positions of the jihadist group "Islamic State" (IS) in a total of 63 air strikes in Hama, Latakia, Idlib and Raqqa provinces.
The Russian air campaign has complicated matters for the US-led coalition that has already been launching attacks on "IS" in Syria.
The ministry said military officials from Russia had held a second video conference with their counterparts in the US to discuss how to avoid military accidents in Syria's increasingly crowded airspace.
Moscow has come under criticism from several Western countries for allegedly directing its aerial campaign against all rebels opposed to Assad, and not just against "IS" as it said it intended to do.
This comes as Human Rights Watch on Sunday accused Russia of being involved in the use of new advanced cluster munitions, which are widely banned, in attacks in Syria.
The New York-based group said it possessed photographs showing that cluster munitions had been used in an attack on Kafr Halab, southwest of Aleppo, on October 4.
It said it could not confirm whether Russian forces had employed the munitions, or whether Moscow had supplied Syrian forces with the weapons.
"It's disturbing that yet another type of cluster munition is being used in Syria given the harm they cause to civilians for years to come," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East director, calling on both countries to join the international ban on the weapons "without delay."
Cluster munitions, which are fired in rockets or dropped from the air, contain dozens or hundreds of bomblets that can continue to maim and kill long after the attack in which they were originally used.
tj/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)