Syrian army advances with help of Russian strikes; Putin reaches out to Saudis

President Vladimir Putin – who has infuriated Assad’s enemies in the United States, Europe, Turkey and the Arab world by bombing the rebels to protect him – reached out to one of the Syrian leader’s fiercest opponents by meeting the powerful defense minister of Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the 4-year-old conflict, said the Syrian military and its Lebanese Hezbollah militia allies had taken control of Tal Skik, a highland area in Idlib province, after fierce Russian bombing.

That brings Syrian government forces closer to insurgent-held positions along the main highway that links Syria’s principal cities. The area is held by a rebel alliance that excludes Islamic State fighters.

“The coming battles are going to be ferocious, the Russians are using scorched earth policy and they are hitting the targets very accurately but this is a battle of destiny,” said Abu Hamed, the head of the military bureau of Jabhat Sham, an insurgent group that operates mainly in Hama province.