BEIRUT/ANKARA (Dispatches) -- Government forces seized control of a highway in northwest Syria for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday as they pressed their campaign to eradicate the last terrorist strongholds in Idlib province and the Aleppo countryside, a war monitor said.
In Ankara, talks between Turkey and Russian ended without agreement on stopping clashes in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in one week.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had seized the entire length of the M5 highway after driving terrorists from their last foothold on the road. The M5 runs from Aleppo in the north to the capital Damascus then on to southern Deraa.
They took control of the highway after capturing a western suburb of Aleppo from foreign-backed militants.
The latest advances by Syrian troops came after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the Idlib region in the past week, prompting some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus of the war.
Ankara deployed thousands of soldiers to confront the Syrian advances and prevent the rout of terrorists.
Turkish-backed militants claimed they had downed a helicopter believed to belong to the Syrian government in the town of Nairab, Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Tuesday.
Since the new push began, Syrian government forces have recaptured more than 600 square km of territory and in recent days have taken control of dozens of towns and villages.
Last week they recaptured the crossroads town of Saraqeb, on the M5. Turkey has several military personnel stationed there to prevent further Syrian advances
after eight of its soldiers were killed by shelling.
A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara on Saturday days after the attack to hold talks aimed at stopping clashes. On their final day of talks, a second attack on Turkish troops in the Taftanaz area killed five more troops.
Ankara has said that it retaliated to both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets. It said would drive back Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month. It also told the Russian team that attacks against Turkish posts must stop immediately.
The Russians left Turkey after talks ended on Monday, a Turkish diplomatic source said, with no apparent agreement. The Kremlin said on Tuesday all attacks on Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib had to stop.
Witnesses and terrorists said on Tuesday a new column of Turkish reinforcements, including tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles, crossed the border into Idlib overnight.
Reports said Turkish-backed terrorists have also begun a new offensive against the government forces near army-controlled Saraqeb and Nairab to push troops away from Idlib city.
The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of the war because it would seal the fate of foreign-backed terrorists and put the Syrian government in control of the whole country except for a sliver of land where the U.S. supports Kurdish militants.