BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government helicopters dropped leaflets over a northwestern town held by Muslim militants Sunday, calling on fighters to surrender and residents to stay away from militant positions as battles intensified nearby, Syrian state TV said.
The warning came as state media and activists said government forces are on the offensive in the outskirts of the town of Jisr al-Shughour, adding that troops have closed all roads leading to the town — which was captured by Muslim militants late last month.
State TV said two reporters embedded with Syrian troops in the area were lightly wounded while covering the fight. It identified them as Jaafar Younnes and Abdou Zamam, who both work for state-run TV stations.
Sunday's fighting was concentrated near the national hospital compound south of the town, where scores of Syrian troops have been besieged by militants for more than two weeks.
The expected offensive on Jisr al-Shughour comes after a string of defeats by government forces in northwestern Idlib province. Jisr al-Shughour is west of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital, which fell to militants in late March.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian air force conducted 33 airstrikes on Sunday alone — mostly near the national hospital.
On Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad acknowledged what he said were recent "setbacks" in the war against insurgents trying to topple him, promising a comeback by his troops.
Assad also vowed that "God willing, the army will soon reach those heroes besieged in Jisr al-Shughour hospital."
Syria's civil war now in its fifth year has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.