CAIRO - Syrian government forces reportedly have captured at least three towns from Islamic militias, which control portions of the country's northwest between Idlib and Hama. Arab media also are reporting the government was battling its adversaries in an effort to capture parts of the country's main highway that runs from Damascus to Aleppo.
Arab media broadcast amateur video of heavy Russian airstrikes in the northwest of Syria, as government forces advanced, recapturing the towns of Kafr Nabouda and Qalaat al-Madiq.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Arab media that government forces have recaptured at least five small towns, including Kafr Nabouda and Qalaat al-Madiq. He says there have been at hundreds of airstrikes over these areas during the past 10 days and that at least 100 civilians were killed.
Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV is saying the number of civilians that were killed was even higher, adding that more than 100 opposition fighters also were killed, in addition to close to 120 government soldiers and allied militiamen.
The TV showed video of civilians fleeing from the areas that were being bombed, using farm vehicles and other form of transportation to escape. Arab media interviewed families that said they were camped out under olive trees to avoid airstrikes and shelling in their villages.
Syrian government analyst Ali Maqsoud told state TV the battle for Idlib is coming to a head and that a military solution to the conflict appears to be on the horizon.
He said the political decision appears to have been made to put an end to the pockets of terrorism around Idlib and that the government is no longer willing to compromise and allow terrorist groups to operate there.
Amateur video showed government soldiers inside the town of Kafr Nabouda, asserting they either would capture or destroy their enemies.
The Syrian opposition's chief negotiator, Naser al-Hariri, told journalists Thursday in the Turkish town of Gaziantep the government advance on opposition-held regions "makes a mockery" of the entire negotiating process that Russia has been conducting in Astana and Sochi.
He said his read of the situation is that what is taking place is a total breach of the Sochi accords between Russia and Turkey, regarding war crimes and the concept of a military victory. He said it makes a mockery of every agreement that has been reached, in both Geneva and Astana.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA the Syrian government has been pursuing a military victory in Syria from the very beginning of the conflict and things now seem to be evolving in that direction.
He said the Assad regime has been trying to achieve a military victory from the outset and that all the de-escalation zones that were set up by the Astana process were just an illusion to mask the eventuality the government would try to recapture those zones. He argued that both Russia and Turkey allowed extremists to set up shop in these zones, providing an excuse to cover military operations there.
The Syrian government says rebel forces have been shelling civilians in the towns and cities that it controls, including Aleppo, while the opposition forces claim Russia and the Syrian government have been bombing civilians in areas that it controls.
Arab media report the United Nations Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss the situation in northern Syria behind closed doors.