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Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy attends a news briefing in Moscow, Russia, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev


MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Monday hailed what it said was "a dramatic shift" in the Syria conflict, saying that the Syrian army, with Moscow's help, was well on its way to pushing militants out of the central part of the country.

In a statement from the Russian Defence Ministry, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi said that the province of Aleppo had been entirely "liberated" with control of 50 population centres and more than 2,700 square kilometres (1042.48 square miles) of territory taken back.

"In the last month a dramatic shift has taken place in Syria," said Rudskoi. "With the support of the Russian air force, Syrian forces have notched up a series of significant successes and won a major defeat over a big group of Islamic State fighters in the central part of Syria."

With Islamic State fighters concentrated in Deir al-Zor, he said Russia had stepped up its reconnaissance and bombing runs in the area and that the Syrian army was closing in on the militant group from three sides.

Rudskoi said the Syrian army was advancing at a pace of 30-40 kilometres (43.5 miles) or more every 24 hours and that -- with Russia's help -- it was using new battlefield tactics such as surprise landings by helicopter.

"The main aim is to destroy the last stronghold of the terrorists in the Deir al-Zor region," said Rudskoi.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

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