At least 25 civilians, including six children, were killed on Thursday in air bombardments in Syria's central Hama province, where rebels have advanced against regime forces in recent days, a monitoring group reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added that unidentified warplanes had carried out more than 20 airstrikes on a road linking the village of Latamina in rural Hama and the southern countryside of Idlib in north-western Syria.

The intense bombing comes as rebels, including hardline Islamists, captured a string of regime-held villages and checkpoints in Hama countryside.

Syria's state news agency SANA said that airstrikes focused on "terrorist gatherings" in Hama's villages of Mork, Taybet al-Imam and Souran, leaving a "large number of terrorists" dead. 

Brigadier Ali Kalouf, a senior army officer, was meanwhile killed in a fight against rebels in Mardes, north of Hama, the capital city of the province of the same name, the Observatory reported. 

The rebels seized Mardes, nearby regime checkpoints  and a missile battalion, according to the watchdog that relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, planned to reinforce the facility and use it as a military base in the area, according to the Observatory. 

The capture of Mardes has brought the rebels closer to Hama city.

The rebels are now around 10 kilometres from the Hama military airport, the Observatory said.

Activists in the area said rebels have seized several villages in the countryside of Hama from regime forces since August 29.

"The aim of the rebels' offensive is to control the countryside of Hama," Observatory head, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said.

He told dpa that regime jets and those of allied Russia were intensifying their raids in rebel-held areas in order to slow down rebels' advance.

Jund al-Aqsa, a hardline jihadist group of Syrian and foreign fighters, is the main force leading the attack on the rebel side in Hama. Moderate rebels are also taking part.

The rebel onslaught in Hama is named Marwan Hadid, after a Muslim Brotherhood-linked figure who died in a Syrian prison in the 1970s, highlighting the longstanding grievances of the Syrian opposition. 

In 1982, Syria's then president Hafez al-Assad quelled a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama city, killing thousands of people.

He is the father of incumbent President Bashar al-Assad who took power in Syria after Hafez's death in 2000. 

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.