DAMASCUS, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian government forces have captured as many as 70 towns and villages in key rebel-strongholds in northern Syria over the past 75 days, a monitor group reported Wednesday.
Intense battles have been raging since the Syrian army launched an offensive in the northern countryside of the central province of Hama and the adjacent southern countryside of the northwestern province of Idlib against the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC) and other allied militants.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government forces are heavily shelling the militants' positions in the southern countryside of Idlib amid bad weather conditions in that part of the country.
Syrian warplanes are also pounding the areas near the city of Khan Sheikhoun and the town of Tamana' in Idlib countryside, said the observatory.
The London-based watchdog group added that the Syrian warplanes struck a museum in the city of Marat al-Numan in southern Idlib a day earlier, leaving big destruction in the building.
Late last month, state news agency SANA said the Syrian forces were making strides in the battles in the countryside of Hama and Idlib with the aim of defeating the LLC, in a triangle of countryside region between Hama, Idlib and Aleppo province in northern Syria.
One of the military goals behind the attack on Idlib is also to capture the Abu al-Duhur Air Base, which will enable the Syrian army to gain the upper hand in carrying out airstrikes on the LLC positions in Idlib.
Idlib has emerged as the main destination of the rebel groups, which have evacuated several positions across Syria after surrendering to the Syrian army.
The area has become a home to several rebel groups from different affiliations, some of which are supported by Turkey, while others, such as the Nusra Front, are designated as terrorist groups.
Still, the area was recently included in the de-escalation zones' deal, sponsored by Russian and Turkey, with Ankara being tasked with guaranteeing the situation there.
It's not clear yet whether the Syrian government forces will launch a wide-scale offensive to recapture the entire province, or just to take some positions in the countryside.