Syrian troops expand offensive despite calls for calm

Syria activists and media say government forces are expanding their ground offensive in northwestern Syria, pushing into the last rebel stronghold despite calls for honoring a cease-fire put in place in September.

The pro-government Military Media Center says Saturday that troops battled insurgent led by an al-Qaida-linked militant group out of Midan Ghazal village, which falls inside Idlib province. The government offensive has so far focused on areas at the southern edge of the rebel stronghold, in the Ghab plains and Hama province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed troops gained new ground, but said all were in Hama. It said government forces control nine villages.

Fighting in the area, which began on April 30, has been the worst breach of a September cease-fire. Members of the U.N. Security Council urged on Friday a return to calm.