Syrian Army Advances

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government forces seized a village from rebels on the edge of a large cease-fire zone in the northwest on Sunday as warplanes targeted opposition positions farther inside the area, according to activists.

A local media activist who goes by the name Obeida Hamawi said the government pushed opposition fighters out of the village of Zalaqiyat, in Hama province, on Saturday, following days of fighting that killed at least 14 rebels.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran agreed on Friday to enforce a cease-fire between government and opposition forces in four areas in Syria, including one that extends into northern Hama province, where Zalaqiyat lies. It is not clear if the agreement encompasses the village. Russia says it will publish maps by June 4.

The agreement is the latest attempt to reduce the fighting in Syria, where a multi-sided war has killed some 400,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country's population since 2011.

There are still questions about how the deal will be enforced. Russia and Iran, which support the government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, may deploy armed forces to secure the four so-called "de-escalation zones," in what would amount to unprecedented coordination between the three countries.

Even if the agreement is enforced, it is unlikely to end the conflict. Despite several rounds of U.N.-mediated negotiations in Geneva, the government and opposition remain at odds over President Bashar Assad's future role in Syria.

The United States is not party to the de-escalation agreement, and the Syrian government and opposition have not signed on to the deal. The armed opposition is critical of the agreement and has demanded a national cease-fire instead.

Zalaqiyat is of little strategic value save for its hilltop, according to Hama native Ahmad al-Ahmad, but it was the first point seized by rebels in a Hama offensive launched in March. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Hama-based Khabar News Agency meanwhile reported intense airstrikes on the town of Latamneh, in opposition-held territory about 6 kilometers (4 miles) to the north.

The Observatory said 11 pro-government fighters were killed in the Zalaqiyat advance. It also reported a drop in fighting in the four areas designated by the de-escalation agreement: the Idlib province, north Homs province, the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and parts of Syria's southern provinces.