Syria army edges south of Aleppo with Russian air cover: monitor

Russia launched its Syrian air campaign on September 30 (AFP Photo/)

Beirut (AFP) - Syria's armed forces advanced south of the second city of Aleppo on Friday in a fresh ground offensive backed by Russian warplanes, a monitoring group said.

Since Moscow began its air war in support of Damascus on September 30, the Syrian army has launched assaults against rebels in at least four provinces with Russian aerial support, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Russian air cover is backing offensives by Syria's army and allied militias in the central provinces of Homs and Hama, as well as Aleppo in the north and Latakia along the coast.

On Friday, the Syrian army pushed south from the provincial capital Aleppo city, where control is divided between regime and rebels forces, as Russian air strikes pounded the villages of Al-Hader and Khan Tuman and nearby localities.

"The Syrian army started a new front on Friday and advanced to take control of the villages of Abteen and Kaddar" about 15 kilometres (12 miles) south of Aleppo city, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

He said "dozens" of Russian aerial attacks in the past 24 hours had struck the area, which is controlled by a patchwork of groups including rebels, Islamist fighters and Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

Moscow has said its air war is targeting the Islamic State jihadist group, but rebels and their international backers say the strikes are concentrating on non-IS targets across the country.

On Thursday, the Syrian army with Russian air support fought to clear rebel fighters out of northern areas of Homs province.

But the Observatory, in a toll released on Friday, said most of those killed there in fighting the previous day were civilians.

"Eight children, 22 women, and 13 civilian men were killed in the fighting, shelling and strikes," Abdel Rahman said.

The violence also killed 17 rebel fighters, he added.

The Britain-based monitoring group said Russian warplanes on Friday struck rebel positions in Latakia, home to President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral village.

More than 245,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011.