Turkish warplanes on on Monday struck Islamic State positions in
and near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab while Ankara-backed Syrian
opposition fighters inched closer to the town, one of the extremist group’s
largest remaining strongholds in the country, Turkish state media and Syrian
activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an
activist group that tracks Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year, said the
airstrikes and the shelling killed three people and wounded 30 others.

The stepped-up campaign by Turkey comes after Ankara first
sent ground forces into northern Syria during the summer, vowing to clear the
border area both of the Islamic State group and the US-backed Syrian Kurdish
forces, which it views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

Since then, Turkish troops and opposition fighters allied
with them have captured wide areas along the border with Turkey, cutting IS
fighters off in their self-declared caliphate from the rest of the world. They
have also captured dozens of towns and villages in northern Syria.

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported 15 airstrikes against
IS in al-Bab on Monday saying they destroyed two command centers, an arms depot
and two buildings used as headquarters, as well as 10 defensive positions.

Also, the Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, said
Turkey-backed opposition fighters captured three villages on Monday northwest of
al-Bab and another village northeast of the town.

The Observatory confirmed that four villages near al-Bab
were taken, adding that the Turkey-backed fighters have captured 29 villages in
the al-Bab area over the past week.

The push has helped Turkish troops and opposition fighters
inch closer to al-Bab, where a long battle with the Islamic State group is expected
to take place soon. IS has been in the town for more than two years.

Also today, Syrian government warplanes struck the last
functioning hospital in the town of Atareb in northern Syria, wounding some
staff members and knocking it out of service, according to the Observatory and
the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group.

The Russian military, meanwhile, accused militants in Syria
of having used chemical weapons against Syrian government troops in the city of

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov
said about 30 Syrian soldiers from the elite Republican Guards were poisoned in
the attack, which he said occurred in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo late