Syrian rebels including a powerful alliance of al-Qaeda affiliated groups continued their new offensive near the city of Hama in the central part of western Syria for the third day, as regime forces brought new reinforcements to the area to repel the rebels’ advancement.
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.
— جيش العزة (@alaza_army) March 22, 2017
First advance since years
The Observatory on Wednesday 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.
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) March 22, 2017
— جيش العزة (@alaza_army) March 22, 2017
Advancement continues, Regime brings reinforcements
According to the observatory, a loud explosion was heard in the northern countryside of Hama, and was caused by detonating a booby-trapped vehicle by Tahrir al-Sham in the northeast of Maardis, and confirmed information about casualties in the ranks of regime forces.
Field sources told the opposition media Orient Net that the two offensives left at least 100 killed among Assad regime forces and their allies since Tuesday.
Orient added that 7 tanks that belong to regime forces were destroyed and 13 were seized in the last 24 hours, but MEO couldn’t verify the news from a third part.
Since the Hama offensive began late on Tuesday, the rebels have captured about 40 positions from the army including at least 11 villages and towns, the Observatory said.
The Observatory added that after the continuous rebels’ advancements in the northern and northwestern countryside of Hama they have become less than 4 km away from Hama city which is controlled by the regime forces.
Samer Alaiwi, an official from the al-Nasr army FSA group, which is fighting near Hama, said on a rebel social media feed that the offensive was aimed at relieving pressure on rebels elsewhere and stopping warplanes using a nearby airbase.
“After the failure of political conferences and solutions, the military operation is an urgent necessity,” he said.
At the same time, regime forces were bringing reinforcements to the area to repel the rebels’ rapid advance.
A regime military source said government reinforcements were being summoned for a counter-offensive. “We have absorbed the attack and we are consolidating defense lines set up in areas breached by the terrorist groups,” he told Reuters.
In addition, the regime forces targeted the newly rebel-seized areas with tens of airstrikes, missiles, and rockets since this morning.
— archicivilians (@archicivilians) March 23, 2017
— Steele M (@SteeleM35085377) March 23, 2017
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) March 23, 2017
— جيش العزة (@alaza_army) March 23, 2017
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.