Syrian troops approaching rebel-held air base in the north

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By the end of last week, they had advanced into Idlib, close to an insurgent-held military airport.

Director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Programme at the Middle East Institute, Charles Lister tweeted yesterday that major factions including Ahrar Al-Shaam, Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki and the Free Idlib Army were recipients of the weapons, but not the largest opposition conglomerate and former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam.

Government fighters have seized a string of villages in the southeast of the province since launching their offensive on December 25.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said regime forces were able to enter Abu Duhur airbase under air cover and were engaged in fierce fighting with the jihadists.

Later, they fired rockets at regime positions from farmland in the Al-Tamana area of southern Idlib, an AFP correspondent said.

Moscow claimed that one airstrike hit a rebels' factory responsible for attacks on Russia's air base in Latakia earlier this month.

Around 1,337 civilians were killed previous year in regime-surrounded Eastern Ghouta due to rising Bashar al-Assad regime attacks, according to the White Helmets.

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Almost 100,000 people have been displaced since early December by the fighting, the United Nations says. "The fear affected our brains", said the mother, quoted by the IRC.

On his first visit to Syria, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock met with Syrian authorities and travelled to the central city of Homs on Wednesday to see the impact of the conflict on civilians for himself.

The recent surge in the violence - taking place just weeks before Russia's proposed "Sochi" conference - has caused a mass exodus of Syrian civilians, with an estimated 113,000 Syrians fleeing Idlib in recent weeks.

Turkey on Tuesday summoned the Russian and Iranian ambassadors to Ankara in order to convey its "uneasiness" about their actions in Idlib. FSA rebels and the Nusra Front had been reported to have been fighting.

In a statement from the Syrian presidency Thursday, Assad said the "major victories of the army in cooperation with Russian Federation and its other allies... have strengthened efforts for a peaceful solution" to the conflict.

Syria's war began in 2011, when an armed uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted as anti-government protests were brutally crushed. Millions have been displaced.

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