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Heavy fighting in central Syria between army, rebels as Russia launches airstrikes


DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian state media and opposition activists are reporting fierce clashes in central Syria as government forces backed by Russian warplanes try to advance against insurgents.

State-run news agency SANA said Saturday that troops seized full control of the village of Atshan in the northern countryside of Hama province.

Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive concentrated in Hama and Idlib provinces earlier this week, marking the first major combined air-and-ground assault since Moscow began its military campaign in the country on Sept. 30.

Russian officials say their airstrikes are targeting mainly Islamic State militants, but most of the strikes are hitting areas where the extremist group is not present.

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