Smoke rises after what activists said were cluster bombs dropped by the Russian air force in Maaret al-Naaman town in Idlib province, Syria October 7, 2015. (REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)
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Syria's army announced Thursday a "vast offensive" to wrest back territory from armed opposition groups, as NATO voiced alarm at escalating Russian military activity in the war-torn country.A Syrian general said the Russian intervention had weakened ISIS and other armed opponents of Assad.The Russian air war has provided cover for Assad's ground troops, who have previously lost swathes of the country to ISIS and other fighters seeking to topple Assad.Russian bombardment came in support of a ground assault by Syrian troops and allied militia seeking to push back rebels from the Sahl al-Ghab plain in Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.Since September 30, Russia's air force has been conducting aerial strikes throughout Syria on targets that Moscow says are held by ISIS and "other terrorists".Backed by allied militia and Russian air cover, Syrian troops fought to retake Latmeen and the surrounding hills to try to cut off the rebels' stronghold in adjacent Idlib province, Syrian military sources told AFP.
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