Syrian government forces have captured several rural settlements in the northwestern province of Idlib, as they continue an offensive into the country's last rebel stronghold, state media and a war monitor said on January 26.
"Our armed forces continued operations in southern parts of Idlib with the aim of putting an end to crimes committed by terrorist groups", said army spokesman Brig.
A reporter for the Sana state-run news agency said troops were patrolling neighbourhoods on Wednesday morning, dismantling mines and booby-trapped vehicles, and clearing tunnels.
Fouad Sayed Issa, an aid worker with the Violet Organisation in northern Syria, said al-Assad's latest campaign has frightened Syrians in the rebel enclave who fear death or arrest if their towns are recaptured.
Syria's army says it took control of Maarat al-Numan after heavy clashes with fighters from a jihadist alliance known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that dominates opposition-held Idlib. Syrian troops had left a road west of the town opened apparently to give a chance for insurgents to pull out and to avoid street battles inside the town.
In a fresh move, Turkey announced on January 10 that a new cease-fire in Idlib would start just after midnight on January 12. At least 50 health facilities have been attacked in Idlib in the past year.
Erdogan said Russian Federation is not loyal to agreements reached with Turkey over the situation in Idlib, including a cease-fire that collapsed earlier this month.
A witness said thousands on Monday fled from the Idlib towns of Ariha and Saraqib with trucks and cars seen crawling in gridlocked traffic towards areas, including the town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border.
Earlier in the day, Syrian troops captured nearby Kfar Roummah, a village that lies southwest of Maaret al-Numan, according to the Observatory.
"Only God knows where our destination will be, where we will find a house". Syrian state TV confirmed that government forces were inside.
In August, Syrian troops captured another town along the highway, Khan Sheikhoun.
Maaret al-Numan sits on the highway linking Damascus with Aleppo, once Syria's main commercial hub.
On 16 January, the regime forces took control of the town of Abu Jarif in the eastern countryside of Idlib.
Syria's almost nine-year conflict has left more than 400,000 people dead and displaced half of Syria's population, including more than 5 million who are refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.