BEIRUT — Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes advanced against insurgents in the center of the country as President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow's intervention in the conflict, saying it would aid efforts to reach a political settlement.
Putin said Moscow's objective was to stabilize the Syrian government and create conditions for a political compromise.
"When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital, then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital," he said in an interview with Russian state television broadcast on Sunday.
The fighting Sunday was on multiple fronts in the northern part of the central Hama province and the nearby rebel-held Idlib province. A Syrian military official said troops seized the northern Hama village of Tak Sukayk. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
It was the second village in the area captured by the government since it launched a wide-ranging ground offensive made possible by Russian airstrikes that began Sept. 30.
Human Rights Watch said Sunday that an advanced type of Russian cluster munition was used in an airstrike southwest of Aleppo on Oct. 4, as part of what photographs and videos suggest is renewed use of the air-dropped and ground-fired cluster munitions.
The New York-based rights group said it could not determine whether Russian or Syrian forces were responsible for the apparent use of the munitions, which descend by parachute and are designed to destroy armored vehicles.
Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is a major arms supplier to Syria. Neither country has banned cluster munitions.
There was no immediate comment from Russia's Defense Ministry.
Russia says its strikes are mainly aimed at the Islamic State group and other "terrorists," but the ground-and-air offensive is being waged in areas controlled by mainstream rebels as well as al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.
U.S. officials say Russia has directed parts of its air campaign against U.S.-funded groups and other moderate opposition groups in a concerted effort to weaken them.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that relies on a network of activists on the ground, said the rebels advanced overnight on a hill overlooking Atshan, a village recently captured by the government. The group said the rebels shelled government troops in the newly seized territory.
The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, said government helicopters and suspected Russian jets struck at a third village, Tamanah, north of Atshan and Tak Sukayk.
Both the Observatory and the LCC reported intense clashes and Russian airstrikes in rural Latakia, the coastal province that is an Assad stronghold. The Observatory said there were Russian airstrikes there too.
The Russian military said Sunday its jets had carried out 64 sorties in the past day, targeting 63 sites in the Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Raqqa provinces. It said an artillery system and a training base were destroyed in separate strikes in Idlib, and that attacks in the Latakia province destroyed military vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons and mortars.
Putin said he planned to discuss the Syrian crisis on Sunday with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Sochi, where the two men attended a Formula One race.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.