Syria: Rebels press with a new major assault in Hama province

Syria: Rebels press with a new major assault in Hama province

Syrian rebels including a powerful alliance of al-Qaeda affiliated groups said they launched a new offensive near the city of Hama in the central part of western Syria on Tuesday.

An alliance of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels and militants from Fatah al-Sham group attacked Assad regime’s positions in the town of Soran and the village of Maardas, gaining control over parts of them, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of Syrian militias formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda, said on a social media feed that it had carried out two suicide car bomb attacks close to Soran in the countryside north of Hama at the start of the assault.

“The battle of Hama has begun, praise God,” the group said in a posting on a Telegram channel it uses.

A military media unit run by Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian government, said that the army was fighting rebels who attacked its positions north of Hama after detonating a bomb.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said there had been big explosions heard in that area and that there were intense clashes between the army on one side and rebel groups on the other.

First advance since years

The Observatory said the rebels had captured the towns of Soran, 20 km (12 miles) north of Hama, Khattab, 10 km northwest of Hama, and al-Majdal, 6 km west of Khattab. However, the Hezbollah military media unit said the rebels had not gained control over either Soran or Maardas.

The areas of Hama province targeted in the latest assault form part of Syria’s pivotal western region where Assad has shored up his rule during the six-year-long war with crucial military support from Russia and Iran.

“There are fierce battles between the two sides,” the military source said.

“The battle – praise God – has been prepared for a long time and all capacities have been prepared for it so that we can wage a long battle,” an FSA commander identified as a lieutenant in the Ezza Army group told Orient TV.

Orient news reported on Wednesday (March 22) that “rebels are just 11 kilometers away from Hama city and around 6 kilometers away from its Military Airport.”

Karam added that the rebels continued its battle on the north-western fronts of the city of Hama.

The rebels also managed to cut off the supply route of regime forces from Hama to al-Ghab Plain in its northern countryside by controlling important fronts in the vicinity, according to him.

The rebels have been on the backfoot since Russia deployed its air force to Syria in 2015 to bolster Assad. They suffered their worst setback of the six-year war in December when government forces seized eastern Aleppo from the opposition.

Assad regime forces, supported by Iranian-backed militias, have been pressing their military edge despite the December truce, winning back more areas including one near Damascus that is the source of the capital’s water supply.

A simultaneous attack in Damascus

The attack in Hama was accompanied by the second phase of a wide offensive be the rebel groups on Syria’s capital of Damascus.

A surprise attack by rebel alliance on March 19. on the Assad regime position in Syria’s capital of Damascus led to heavy clashes and rocket shelling, which were described as the most fierce in years.

The escalation, reported by witnesses, state TV, rebel sources, and a monitoring group, marked a bid by the rebels to relieve army pressure on besieged areas they control to the east of the capital.

Moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and militants from Fatah al-Sham group were both involved in the assault on the districts of Jobar and Abbasid Square area, some 2 km (1.2 miles) east of the Old City walls.

Though the attack was largely repelled by Assad regime and its allied forces, the rebels proved that they are still able to conduct attacks even after the high losses they suffered after the Russian intervention.

The rebels said that this attack won’t be the last and they are preparing for new wide offensive soon, and started a new one already on March 21.

The spokesman for one of the main insurgent groups involved in the attack said new offensive began at 5.00 a.m., targeting an area rebel fighters had seized from government control on Sunday before being forced to retreat.

“We launched the new offensive and we restored all the points we withdrew from on Monday. We have fire control over the Abbasid garages and began storming it,” Wael Alwan, spokesman of rebel group Failaq al-Rahman, told Reuters.

He said the attack strengthened the hand of the mainstream opposition ahead of new peace talks in Geneva on Thursday. “Our gains today will give strength to our presence in Geneva after tomorrow,” he added.

Another rebel official heading to Geneva said the attack showed the limitations of Russia’s extensive military support.

“This is a military and political message to Russia that the regime is weak and has no full control and is unable to decisively tilt the balance in its favor militarily,” Issam al Rayess, a spokesman for the FSA’s Southern Front alliance of rebel groups.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.