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BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Russian-backed Syrian army has recaptured 16 villages lost to insurgents last week near the city of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday.

Syrian government forces have been counter-attacking in the area that is of critical importance to President Bashar al-Assad. The rebel assault has been spearheaded by Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadist groups including al Qaeda's former affiliate in the Syrian war, the Nusra Front.

Free Syrian Army rebel groups are also taking part.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

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