Syrian regime forces on Wednesday penetrated the strategic town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, a war monitor said.
“Regime forces have entered Saraqeb, after hundreds of jihadists and allied forces retreated north of the town,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
“Regime forces have begun to comb districts of Saraqeb and are on the point of taking control of all of the M5 road, where the jihadists have withdrawn to a small village north” of the town, Abdel Rahman added.
State TV said the Syrian military “have encircled the town… on three sides and overlook the junction of the M4 with the M5.”
The town sits on a junction of two key roads, which the regime is seeking to retake in order to revive an economy ravaged by almost nine years of war.
The M5 connects the capital Damascus to second city Aleppo in the north, crossing Idlib, while the M4 connects Aleppo with the coast city of Latakia.
A week ago, regime forces — backed by Russia — retook the town of Maaret al-Numan, which sits on the M5.
Regime forces have in recent weeks ramped up the pressure on the last pocket still controlled by rebels and jihadists.
They have retaken dozens of villages and some major towns and are pushing northwards, sending displaced populations ever closer to the Turkish border.
Almost 300 civilians have been killed since mid-December in bombardments of the Idlib region, says the Britain-based Observatory.
The Damascus regime controls more than 70 per cent of Syrian territory and has repeatedly vowed to reclaim the entire country, including Idlib.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 380,000 people since it broke out in 2011.