Baku-APA. Islamic State fighters have seized villages close to the northern city of Aleppo from rival insurgents, a monitoring group said on Friday, despite an intensifying Russian air-and-sea campaign that Moscow says has targeted the militant group, APA reports quoting Reuters.
The Russian defense ministry said stepped-up air strikes on rebel positions in Syria killed 300 anti-Assad rebels and that it hit 60 Islamic State targets over the last day. There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.
About 200 insurgents were killed in an attack on the Liwa al-Haqq group in Raqqa province while 100 died in Aleppo, the defense ministry said. Two Islamic State commanders were amongst the dead in Russia's most intense raids since it launched strikes in Syria 10 days ago. In previous updates Russia has reported hitting 10 targets daily.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fighting, said there had been no significant advances by government forces backed by allied militia in areas where ground offensives were launched this week. "It's back and forth," said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory.
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps said separately one of its generals had been killed near Aleppo, once Syria's most populous city. Iran, like Russia an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, says it has advisers in the country.
Islamic State is now within 2 km of government-held territory on the northern edge of Aleppo which has suffered widespread damage and disease during the four-year civil war that erupted in the wake of protests against Assad.
Syria's military, backed by Russia, Iran and allied militias, has launched a major attack in Syria's west to recapture land lost to non-IS rebels near the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an area vital to his survival.
A senior regional official close to the Syrian government said: "The Iranians are at the heart of the battle, with strength and effectiveness. Yes they are participating."
As the operation in the west pushed ahead, Islamic State said its fighters had captured five villages in its northern offensive and killed more than 10 soldiers or militiamen.
The British-based Observatory said it was the biggest advance by Islamic State since it launched an offensive against rival rebels in Aleppo near the Turkish border in late August.