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Militants 'kill 22 Syrian government troops' in Aleppo as Putin warns on Idlib

Deaths come as Russian president said he could not rule out a full-scale assault on Idlib but that it was not 'expedient now'
Russia has helped forces loyal to Assad take back most of the country in the eight-year-old war (AFP)

Fighters in Syria have killed at least 22 government troops in Aleppo on Saturday, according to a UK-based activist group, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could not rule out a full-scale assault on Idlib but that it was not "expedient now".

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its ally Hurras al-Deen launched its attacks on the soldiers in the southern and southwestern countryside of Aleppo province shortly after midnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It said that at least 30 others were wounded in the attacks which triggered clashes that continued until dawn.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency that the fighting subsided after Russian warplanes fired on HTS, al-Qaeda's former Syrian branch, and Hurras al-Deen positions in the area, prompting fighters to pull back. 

Eight fighters were killed, he added.

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Russian jets also conducted air strikes in neighbouring Hama province on Saturday killing five civilians, the Observatory said. 

Civilian concerns

Speaking in Beijing on Saturday, Putin said that he could not rule out a full-scale assault against armed groups in Idlib but that it was not "expedient now" due to concerns over the area's civilian population.  

"I don't rule it [a full-scale assault] out, but right now we and our Syrian friends consider that to be inadvisable given this humanitarian element," Putin told reporters in the Chinese capital.

Russia has helped forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad take back most of the country in the eight-year-old war but fighting continues.

Putin also said Russia would work with the Syrian opposition to finalise the make-up of a constitutional committee, part of efforts to secure a political settlement of the conflict.

On Friday, Russian air strikes killed ten civilians in Idlib as government troops continue to encircle the last remaining rebel-held territory. 

The latest Russian air raids came after two days of talks on the Syrian conflict between Turkey, Russia and fellow government backer Iran in Kazakhstan earlier this week.

The three governments expressed concern over the growing power of HTS in Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces, and their determination to cooperate to eliminate the group.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

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