Syrian army takes control of strategic village north of Aleppo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's military took control of a village north of partly insurgent-held Aleppo on Wednesday, state media and a monitoring group said, giving it increased control of an area which armed groups have used as a supply route into the city. The army, backed by militia, took Handarat after 10 days of fierce fighting with al Qaeda's Syrian wing and other Islamist brigades, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war using sources on the ground. The army closed in on Handarat and other areas north of Aleppo late last year in a bid to cut off supply lines. Fighting was still raging in and around the village on Wednesday, the Observatory said, and the airforce carried out several strikes. Aleppo city is divided between the Syria military, backed by militia, and a range of insurgent groups including al Qaeda's Nusra Front, Islamist brigades and Western-backed rebels. The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is trying to effect a local ceasefire in Aleppo to allow in badly needed humanitarian assistance. Insurgent-held districts have been flattened by Syrian air force bombardments, including barrel bombs - crude explosive devices packed with shrapnel and nails. State television said the army had taken full control in and around Handarat after "eliminating the last terrorist elements". A state news agency report showed a photograph of Syrian soldiers raising their guns and fists in the air. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Louise Ireland)