Syrian troops make gains near Turkish border

BEIRUT - Syrian army troops recaptured a new village north of Aleppo Monday, bringing troops and allied militiamen to within a few kilometres of the Turkish border as part of a major Russian-backed offensive in the area, the Syrian government and opposition activists said.

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State-run news agency SANA said army troops took control of the village of Kfeen in the northern countryside of Aleppo "after wiping out the last group of terrorists there."

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and the pro-Syrian, Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen station also reported Kfeen's capture and aired live footage from the village.

The government offensive around the city of Aleppo has sent tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing toward the border with Turkey. Turkish authorities say up to 35,000 Syrians have massed along the border, which remained closed for a fourth day on Monday.

Turkey has come under mounting pressure to open its border to assist the fleeing Syrians, many of whom have been sleeping in cold weather in open fields near the Bab al-Salameh border crossing.

The Turkish deputy premier said Sunday that Turkey has reached the end of its "capacity to absorb" refugees. The governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis said that Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an "extraordinary crisis."

The army gains have allowed troops to almost fully encircle Aleppo, Syria's largest city and one-time commercial centre, preparing the way for a blockade. The main supply line to the Turkish border has already been cut and many residents of the city were looking to leave, anticipating severe shortages in the coming days.

The army has been aided by massive Russian airpower and dozens of fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group as well as Iranian fighters.

The capture of Kfeen brought troops to about five kilometres away from the town of Tel Rifaat, and about 30 kilometres from the Turkish border - the closest point to the Turkish border reached by government forces since they lost the Mannagh air base in mid- 2013.


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