The government push is the latest in a bid to regain the Sahl al-Ghab plain, which is adjacent to Latakia province, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad and the Alawite religious minority to which he belongs.

After a heavy barrage of Russian airstrikes, the fighting was focused on the village of Kfar Nabudeh, which officials said had been seized by government troops. Activists said Syrian rebels repelled the attack.

Capturing Kfar Nabudeh would cut off a major highway, giving the pro-government forces access to the northwestern province of Idlib. A rebel coalition that includes the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front drove Assad's forces out of Idlib in September, in a major setback for the government.

Their hold on the province threatened Latakia. The Russian Defense Ministry said it has struck 53 alleged Islamic State targets in the past 24 hours, destroying command centers, ammunition and fuel depots as well as training camps allegedly used by foreign militants.

The ministry said the IS positions were in the central provinces of Homs and Hama, as well as in Latakia and Idlib. IS has a limited presence in Hama, away from where the fighting has been concentrated.


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