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Syrian forces retake rebel-held areas of Hama province

In a new advance, Syrian regime troops have regained several villages from rebels in central Hama province. The gains came ahead of a United Nations Security Council vote on Syria.

Government forces on Saturday retook several towns and villages in central Syria that were captured by rebels in late August, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The monitoring group said the attacks by Bashar al-Assad's troops and their allies put them on the front foot in northern Hama for the first time in weeks.

Lebanon's Al Manar TV - run by the Shiite group Hezbollah, which supports Assad's regime - said the Syrian army had seized towns and villages including al-Talisiya, al-Qahira and Tel al-Usud.

Observers say competing rebel groups have been weakened by their own skirmishes on the outskirts of Hama and the northwestern Idlib province.

Aleppo offensive continues

Syrian government forces, backed by air raids, also took over an area on Aleppo's northern outskirts on Saturday, state media and the Observatory said on Saturday.

The northern city has been the scene of a renewed offensive by the Syrian regime over the past three weeks. The latest ceasefire collapsed in late September after an aid convoy was attacked, leaving 20 people dead.

The advance in the Awaija area strengthened their hold on areas surrounding rebel-held east Aleppo, the Observatory said.

Rebels also suffered setbacks further northeast near the Turkish border on Saturday, in fighting against the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) group, the British-based monitors said.

UN vote due

Later on Saturday, the UN Security Council was set to vote on rival French and Russian draft resolutions urging an immediate ceasefire in the war-ravaged country.

France, which opposes Assad, has demanded an end to airstrikes and military flights over Aleppo city, where hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped.

That draft appears certain to be vetoed by Russia, which has backed Assad with a yearlong air campaign against the rebels.

Russia's draft, which does not include that demand, urges Moscow and Washington to revive the ceasefire deal. It is also almost certain to be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the UN's children's agency's representative in Syria has described conditions in besieged Aleppo as "terribly dire," and called for the immediate end to violence to allow aid agencies to deliver vital supplies.

mm/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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