Syrian militants, rebels capture hills in northwest in push toward government strongholds



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BEIRUT — Syrian militants and other rebels captured strategic hills and a power station in the northwest on Tuesday, a push that brings them closer to several President Bashar Assad's strongholds, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center said the militants were advancing in the Sahl al-Ghab region north of the central province of Hama.

Syria's state news agency SANA says troops repelled the attack, killing and wounding dozens. The Observatory said 11 militants were killed in Tuesday's battles.

The militants launched their offensive in the northwestern Idlib province in March, when they captured the provincial capital. Tuesday's fighting was near the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which they captured in April.

The allied anti-government forces include al-Qaida and other Islamic militants, as well as Western-backed rebels. In a speech to his supporters on Sunday, Assad vowed to win the war, though he acknowledged his troops had lost territory and were running short on manpower.

Syria's crisis, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 220,000 people and wounded at least a million people, according to the U.N.

Also Tuesday, government forces and members of the main Kurdish militia evicted Islamic State fighters from the northeastern city of Hassakeh, according to the Observatory.

Redur Khalil of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, said IS was still holds some pockets in the city. The IS attack on Hassakeh last month displaced tens of thousands of people who fled to safer neighborhoods under YPG control.

The Observatory said dozens of families returned to their homes Tuesday after IS fighters were evicted from the area.

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