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Syrian government troops capture strategic mountain

Syrian government forces have captured a strategic mountain in the country's north-west, inching closer to a rebel-held stronghold in the coastal province of Latakia.

State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen captured the Noba Mountain early on Wednesday "after destroying the terrorists' positions and fortifications".

Government troops have been on the offensive in different parts of the country under the cover of Russian air strikes, which began on September 30.

Capturing the mountains of Latakia would reduce threats to the coast - a key stronghold of President Bashar Assad.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the capture of Noba Mountain opens the way for government forces towards the rebel-stronghold of Salma.

It added that government troops were backed by fighters from Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, which sided with Mr Assad in Syria's civil war.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV quoted one of its reporters, embedded with Syrian troops, as saying that government forces raised the Syrian flag on the mountain overlooking an array of rebel-held areas in Latakia.

Meanwhile, in the central Syrian city of Homs, a convoy of 18 trucks carrying food, medical supplies and construction material began entering the rebel-held neighbourhood of Waer, according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Pawel Krzysiek.

Mr Krzysiek said the convoy is organised by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Earlier this month, a deal in Waer saw a few hundred insurgents pull out of the district in return for a cease-fire and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The United Nations presided over the implementation of the deal, which allowed those leaving Waer safe passage to the north.

A few thousand rebels had been holed up in Waer, which Syrian government forces had blockaded for nearly three years, only sporadically allowing in food.

Hundreds of other fighters are expected to leave Waer in the coming weeks and once the evacuation of the rebels is completed, the city of Homs will fully return to government control.

Also on Wednesday, the German military said it has flown its first mission in support of the US-led coalition effort against Islamic State in Syria.

The Bundeswehr said a German tanker aircraft had refuelled two fighter jets in the air as they flew missions against the extremist group, the dpa news agency reported.

A German frigate has also been providing protection to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and German Tornado reconnaissance jets are expected to begin flying surveillance missions in January.

German chancellor Angela Merkel pledged the support after France asked for help in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Paris, which were claimed by Islamic State.

Up to 1,200 troops are expected to be involved in the German mission, which the military said is an exclusively non-combat support deployment.

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