The regime's brutal push into northwestern Syria has seen over 800 people killed and thousands displaced in just four months as it takes over rebel-held territory in Idlib and Hama, violating a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone.
As Syrians in Idlib and Hama provinces flee Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad's deadly assault in the northwest of the country, troops seized control of a string of villages in the countryside of Hama province. This completes their takeover of the formerly opposition and rebel-held region just south of Idlib province for the first time since 2012, a war monitoring group and Syrian state TV said on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that regime troops were in control of the entire northern Hama countryside after capturing a series of towns of villages.
Regime soldiers captured a dozen hills, expanding control of a main highway that runs through the area and stretches from the capital Damascus to Aleppo city.
The TV also said troops seized the villages of Latamneh, Latmeen, Kfar Zita and Lahaya, as well as the village of Morek, where Turkey maintains observation post no 9, on Friday.
Several opposition officials did not respond to requests for comment.
TRT World's Sara Firth has more from Turkey-Syria border.
Turkish President Erdogan to visit Russia
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a one-day-visit to Russia on Tuesday, his office said Friday.
Earlier in the day, President Erdogan in a phone call told Russia's Vladimir Putin the Syrian assault was causing a humanitarian crisis, the presidency said.
"The president stated the regime's ceasefire violations and attacks in Idlib are causing a big humanitarian crisis, that these attacks are damaging the solution process in Syria and pose a serious threat to our country's national security," it said.
"They discussed the issues of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the context of stabilisation of the de-escalation zone," a Kremlin statement said.
"They agreed to activate mutual efforts with the goal of liquidating the terrorist threat coming from this region," during a phone call initiated by Erdogan, it said.
Since a deal with Russia last year, Turkey has maintained 12 such posts in and around Idlib province. Turkey is a strong backer of the Syrian opposition and rebels fighting Assad's forces.
The Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday all of Turkey's observation posts, formed under an agreement with Russia and Iran, will remain in place and support will continue to be provided.
He said a schedule agreed upon with the US for the planned safe zone in northeastern Syria will be gradually implemented in the coming weeks. Kalin added Turkish and US troops will begin joint patrols in the region soon.
Assault on Idlib, Hama
The regime, backed by Russia, laid siege to opposition and rebel-held villages in the central province of Hama earlier this week, following rapid advances.
Idlib, near the Turkish border, is the last major rebel-controlled province in Syria. Insurgents there have suffered a series of setbacks over the past three weeks in the face of a stepped-up government offensive in the country's northwest.
On Wednesday, government forces took control of the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province. They then launched the siege on rebel-held towns and villages in the northern province, adjoining Hama.
A never-ending displacement
Syrian regime forces have been on the offensive in Idlib and northern parts of Hama province since April 30, forcing nearly half a million people to flee to safer areas further north. The fighting also killed more than 2,000 people, including more than 800 civilians.
Ten of thousands of people have fled towards the Turkish border in recent days as air and ground attacks battered parts of Idlib and Hama.
Most of Idlib's population were Syrians displaced from other parts of the country where the regime assaults made life impossible.
Now fleeing Idlib, Syrians face the forced choice of finding another place safe enough to call home.
The UN warned on Wednesday that 3 million people in northwestern Syria are at dire risk if the regime continues its offensive.
''The Secretary-General said that he is deeply troubled by the continued escalation in north-west Syria and the prospect of an offensive deeper into Idlib, which could trigger a new wave of human suffering possibly impacting more than 3 million people,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told a press conference late Wednesday.
''The Secretary-General reiterates his urgent call for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld,” she added, referring to a ceasefire deal reached between Turkey and Russia.