World

Heavy fighting in central Syria between army, rebels as Russia launches airstrikes

  • In this photo taken on Wednesday, Oct.  7, 2015, Syrian army rocket launchers fire near the village of Morek in Syria. The Syrian army has launched an offensive this week in central and northwestern Syria aided by Russian airstrikes. CIA-backed rebels in Syria, who had begun to put serious pressure on President Bashar Assad’s forces, are now under Russian bombardment with little prospect of rescue by their American patrons, U.S. officials say. Over the past week, Russia has directed parts of its air campaign against U.S.-funded groups and other moderate opposition in a concerted effort to weaken them, the officials say.  (AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

    In this photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, Syrian army rocket launchers fire near the village of Morek in Syria. The Syrian army has launched an offensive this week in central and northwestern Syria aided by Russian airstrikes. CIA-backed rebels in Syria, who had begun to put serious pressure on President Bashar Assad’s forces, are now under Russian bombardment with little prospect of rescue by their American patrons, U.S. officials say. Over the past week, Russia has directed parts of its air campaign against U.S.-funded groups and other moderate opposition in a concerted effort to weaken them, the officials say. (AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, left, listens to  Abdullatif al-Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, during the opening day of the Beirut Institute Summit, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Al-Zayani said Saturday that  Russia's intervention in Syria could help defeat the Islamic State militant group if it works with other nations battling the extremists. Meanwhile Eliasson called on all countries in the region, and the Security Council, to work toward a "credible political transition in Syria." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

    U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, left, listens to Abdullatif al-Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, during the opening day of the Beirut Institute Summit, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Al-Zayani said Saturday that Russia's intervention in Syria could help defeat the Islamic State militant group if it works with other nations battling the extremists. Meanwhile Eliasson called on all countries in the region, and the Security Council, to work toward a "credible political transition in Syria." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)  (The Associated Press)

  • U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, left, listens to Abdullatif al-Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, during the opening day of the Beirut Institute Summit, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Al-Zayani said Saturday that Russia's intervention in Syria could help defeat the Islamic State militant group if it works with other nations battling the extremists. Meanwhile Eliasson called on all countries in the region, and the Security Council, to work toward a "credible political transition in Syria." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

    U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, left, listens to Abdullatif al-Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, during the opening day of the Beirut Institute Summit, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Al-Zayani said Saturday that Russia's intervention in Syria could help defeat the Islamic State militant group if it works with other nations battling the extremists. Meanwhile Eliasson called on all countries in the region, and the Security Council, to work toward a "credible political transition in Syria." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)  (The Associated Press)

Syrian state media and opposition activists are reporting fierce clashes in central Syria as government forces backed by Russian warplanes try to advance against insurgents.

State-run news agency SANA said Saturday that troops seized full control of the village of Atshan in the northern countryside of Hama province.

Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive concentrated in Hama and Idlib provinces earlier this week, marking the first major combined air-and-ground assault since Moscow began its military campaign in the country on Sept. 30.

Russian officials say their airstrikes are targeting mainly Islamic State militants, but most of the strikes are hitting areas where the extremist group is not present.