Activists say fighters from the Islamic State extremist group have captured three villages in northern Syria as they close in on a stronghold of rival rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday the jihadi group’s gunmen overran the village of Maled near the town of Marea in Aleppo province late Friday.

Fayez Abu Quteibah, an activist in the area, said the group also captured two other villages near Marea — Hamidiyeh and Sonbol.

Those gains come days after the extremists overran several other villages and two towns in Aleppo province.

The Islamic State group’s ultimate goal appears to be Marea itself, which is a stronghold of the once-powerful Islamic Front rebel group that has been fighting the jihadists since January.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press