TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Syrian forces enveloped three sides of a key rebel-held town in the country’s northwest, and were also advancing against militant positions west of the city of Aleppo, state media said.

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Syrian forces have been on the offensive for more than a month in the northwestern Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the country. But in recent days, the army captured more than a dozen villages in the area as the insurgents’ defenses began to crumble. Al-Qaeda linked militants control much of Idlib province and small parts of the adjacent area in Aleppo.

The main target of the army offensive was the strategic rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan, which sits on the highway linking Damascus with Aleppo. Syrian troops were keeping a road leading west out of the town open, apparently to give insurgents a chance to withdraw.

According to reports, Syrian troops had tightened their grip on the town early Tuesday by capturing the nearby village of Kfar Roummah. The village lies to the southwest. Syrian state TV confirmed that forces are now inside.

Further north, Syrian forces began an offensive on the western suburbs of Aleppo in an attempt to push militants away from Syria’s largest city. Rebels have rained artillery and mortar shells down on Aleppo in recent days.

The push in Maaret al-Numan and west of Aleppo brought the army forces closer to retaking the critical north-south highway that passes through the town, held by rebels since 2012.

In August, Syrian troops captured another town that the highway passes through, Khan Sheykhoun. If Syrian troops capture Maaret al-Numan, their next target is likely to be Saraqeb, which would become the last major town on the M5 highway outside government control.