Activists report intense fighting between insurgents and Syrian troops in the country's center amid new territorial gains for the government, backed by Russian airstrikes.

The fighting Sunday is on multiple fronts in the northern part of the central province of Hama and southern Idlib, the province controlled by a coalition of rebel groups.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there were also intense clashes and Russian airstrikes in rural Latakia, the coastal province that is a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The fighting comes after government troops seized two villages in central Syria, Atshan and Tal Sukayk, between Hama and Idlib. The Observatory said the rebels advanced on a hill overlooking Atshan overnight.

Russia started launching airstrikes in Syria on Sept.30, facilitating the government ground offensive.