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Damascus, Syria — Syrian troops have made significant advances against the last rebel held enclaves in the country’s northwest, state media said on Sunday, consolidating the government’s hold over the key Aleppo province.

The Syrian government advance also appeared to put the provincial capital of Aleppo out of the firing range of opposition groups for the first time in years, another sign of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s growing control of the area.

The armed opposition had been driven out of Aleppo city’s eastern quarters in late 2016, which they controlled for years while battling government forces who were in charge in the western part. Rebel groups had continued to harry government forces, however, from outside the city with mortar rounds.

State news agency SANA reported 30 villages and towns around the city in the western Aleppo countryside were captured on Sunday.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor Syria Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the report.

The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said government troops were still besieging remnants of opposition fighters in a small part of rural western Aleppo. Also, parts of northern Aleppo region, which straddles the border with Turkey, is administered by Turkey and allied Syrian factions. Another segment of the province further west is controlled by Kurdish-led forces, allied with the United States. Both parts have not been part of the government offensive.

The fighting in the Aleppo region and nearby Idlib province has unleashed a humanitarian crisis. Over 800,000 civilians out of nearly 4 million living in the enclave have been displaced, living in open fields and temporary shelters for the most part in harsh winter conditions.

The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive.

“The Syrian people are determined to liberate all Syrian territories,” President Assad said according to the Syrian state news agency on Sunday.

The Syrian leader also claimed “terrorists” in northwestern Syria were using residents as “human shields,” in an attempt to stop Syrian troops from advancing into the territory.

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