Syria announces new offensive

Syria’s top general on Thursday said Russian strikes had helped government forces launch a “wide-ranging” offensive in central and northwestern Syria, where Al-Qaida’s affiliate as well as other insurgents had advanced toward key government strongholds in recent months.

Gen. Ali Ayoub said in a rare televised statement that the Russian strikes have facilitated an expanded military operation to eliminate “terrorists” — a term the Syrian government uses to refer to all armed opposition to President Bashar Assad. The Syrian ground push got a boost after Russian warships launched cruise missiles into Syria from the Caspian Sea on Wednesday, bringing new military might into the nearly five-year civil war.

The strikes have alarmed the U.S. and its NATO allies, particularly Turkey. Russia says its intervention is aimed at helping the Syrian government defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but U.S. officials say the strikes have also targeted Western-backed rebels.

Associated Press