The Syrian army has driven the Islamic State from several villages located about 16km (10 miles) southwest of al-Bab according to a military media unit run by Hezbollah and a war monitor.
The villages of Sora, Moran, Surja al-Saghira and Surja al-Kabira in east Aleppo were captured by the Syrian army and its allies, taking them closer to areas held by Turkish soldiers and several rebel groups Ankara is supporting.
Turkey and the rebel groups it is backing are struggling to defeat the Islamic State in al-Bab despite reaching the outskirts of the city a month ago. According to local sources, as part of its agreement with Russia, Turkey may pull back its forces to allow the Syrian army to capture the city.
Turkey has softened its rhetoric on the Syrian President recently with deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek saying that “Turkey can no longer insist on a settlement in Syria without Assad.”
Ankara and Moscow brokered a ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebels following the rebels’ defeat in Aleppo in December and the parties are expected to meet for talks in Astana on 23 January.
The battlefield is complicated in northern Syria with the Kurdish-Arab multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces, which the Syrian government and Turkey oppose, also taking territory from the Islamic State.