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Syrian troops advance closer toward major rebel-held town

This photo provided by the Ibaa News Agency, the media arm of al-Qaida's branch in Syria, purports to show part of a Syrian warplane that was shot down by rebel fighters over Idlib province in Syria, Wednesday, Aug 14, 2019. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the warplane was shot down on the southern edge of Idlib province, while activist Taher al-Omar who has close links with militants said it was a Russian-made SU-22. The caption in Arabic reads: "The remains of the warplane that was shot down by holy warriors of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as part of the Great Conquest operations." (Ibaa News Agency via AP)

BEIRUT — Syrian forces have gained more ground from insurgents in the country’s northwest, edging closer to a major rebel-held town, a day after militants shot down a government warplane in the area.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said pro-government fighters captured three small villages, just west of the rebel stronghold of Khan Sheikhoun.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the villages fell on Thursday morning. It says the town of Khan Sheikhoun is being bombarded relentlessly.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive in Idlib and its surroundings, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, since April 30.

State media confirmed insurgents downed the government plane on Wednesday. An al-Qaida-linked group has released a video of the pilot in which the handcuffed man identified himself.

The Associated Press