The Syrian Army and allied militias on Friday made advances when they retook a town at the doorstep of Deraa and completely encircled the northern countryside of Aleppo province.
Deraa is a contested city that lies between Damascus and the Jordan border.
The conquest opens several supply routes to Deraa, which is divided between government and opposition fighters, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Deraa was the scene of some of the first protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011 and holds symbolic value in the narrative of the uprising that has since collapsed into a vicious civil war.
Syria’s official news agency says the offensive on Atman, north of Deraa, scattered rebel forces - which it labels terrorists.
Troops advanced under the cover of heavy artillery bombardment and air power, the Observatory reports.
Meanwhile, the commander of a U.S.-supported Syrian rebel group said on Friday the northern countryside of Aleppo province was completely encircled by Syrian government forces and its allies, and heavy Russian bombardment continued.
Syrian government troops and their allies broke through rebel defences to reach two Shiite villages in northern Aleppo province on Wednesday, choking opposition supply lines from Turkey to Aleppo city.
The assault in northern Aleppo province, backed by hundreds of Russian air strikes there, has also prompted tens of thousands of people to flee towards the Turkish border and helped derail peace talks in Geneva.
Hassan Haj Ali, the head of a prominent Free Syrian Army group called Liwa Suqour al-Jabal that has received U.S. military training in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said the aerial bombardment continued.
“The Russian cover continues night and day, there were more than 250 air strikes on this area in one day,” he told Reuters.
“The regime is now trying to expand the area it has taken control of,” he said. “Now the northern countryside (of Aleppo province) is totally encircled, and the humanitarian situation is very difficult.”
Hezbollah’s Al Manar television said government forces and allied fighters had taken over the town of Ratyan, which lies close to areas they captured on Wednesday.
The Observatory confirmed the “symbolic” capture of Ratyan, but Haj Ali said it had not yet fallen.
“There are very heavy battles in Ratyan, and an attempt by the regime to storm it. But until now they haven't been able to enter,” he said.
Haj Ali reiterated calls for countries backing Syrian rebels to send more military aid, including anti-aircraft missiles, but said he held out little hope for the latter.
“We demand daily more support, but the issue of anti-aircraft (weapons) has become a dream ... the dream that will not come true,” he said.
U.S.-made TOW missiles, or guided anti-tank missiles, are the most potent weapon in the rebel arsenal and have been supplied to vetted rebel groups as part of a program of military support overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency.
But while they have helped rebels to slow advances on the ground, they are of little use against fighter bombers.
Tens of thousands flee Aleppo
The United Nations also said on Friday that up to 20,000 Syrians fleeing a government advance in Aleppo have gathered at a border crossing with Turkey.
“It is estimated that up to 20,000 people have gathered at the Bab al-Salama border crossing and another 5,000 to 10,000 people have been displaced to Azaz city” nearby, said Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday that the humanitarian corridor between Turkey and Aleppo has been cut off as Syrian forces seek to inflict a siege of starvation on the city.
“This humanitarian logistic corridor is now under the invasion of these foreign fighters and regime forces (with) the support of Russian war planes,” the local Today’s Zaman quoted him as saying after a Syrian donor conference in London.
He said the forces were seeking to do the same to Aleppo as they did to the besieged town of Madaya, where dozens have starved to death.
The prime minister also warned of a new influx of Syrian refugees as many as 80,000 after increased airstrikes in Syria’s northwest.
Donor nations also have pledged to give more than $10 billion by 2020 to meet Syrian needs. The pledges came during a conference in London on Thursday, described by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the single biggest humanitarian fundraising event ever.
(With AP and Reuters)SHOW MORE