Syrian government forces walk in the village of Tal Jabin, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, as they advanced to break a three-year rebel siege of two government-held Shiite villages, Nubol and Zahraa, on February 3, 2016
Aleppo (Syria) (AFP) - Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes Wednesday cut the last supply route linking rebels in Aleppo city to the Turkish border, a military source said, in a major blow to the opposition.
Aleppo, Syria's pre-war commercial capital, has been divided between loyalists in the west and rebels in the east since fighting erupted in the northern city in mid-2012.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and other militias encircled Aleppo from the west, south and east, and have advanced from the north since last week.
In addition to losing their lifeline from Turkey, which supports Syrian rebels, the opposition forces are now threatened in parts of Aleppo that they have held for three years.
Since launching their assault on Monday, pro-regime forces have taken several villages and towns, including Maarasset al-Khan.
On Wednesday, the army broke a three-year rebel siege of two government-held Shiite villages, Nubol and Zahraa, and took control of parts of the supply route, the Syrian military source told AFP.
"Heavy air strikes by Russian planes" supported the army in its advance, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground for its reports, said the regime's gains were the most significant development in Aleppo province since 2012.
"The pro-regime forces have encircled the rebel quarters in Aleppo from the south, east and north," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
This left the rebel fighters with only a single opening in the northwest which gives them access to the neighbouring province of Idlib.
- Peace talks halted -
"If they manage to continue their advance, they may then block this single access" route and totally besiege the rebels, he said.
"The regime forces have done in three days in Aleppo what they had failed to do in three years, thanks mainly to Russian support."
The development came as UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced on Wednesday a "temporary pause" until February 25 of troubled talks aimed at ending the country's brutal conflict.
"I have concluded frankly that after the first week of preparatory talks there is more work to be done, not only by us but the stakeholders," de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.
His comments came after several days of fruitless talks aimed at starting indirect negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition.
The hoped-for six months of indirect "proximity talks" are part of an ambitious roadmap agreed by outside powers embroiled in the conflict in November in Vienna.
Russian planes have carried out heavy air strikes throughout the area north of Aleppo city in past days.
The government advance comes almost exactly a year after the failure of a similar regime offensive aimed at reaching Nubol and Zahraa and severing rebel supply lines into Aleppo city.
The current offensive is one of several which the government has launched since Russian strikes began on September 30.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started with anti-government protests in March 2011.