With Russian support, pro-Assad forces advance against rebels

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Syrian army forces made new gains in Latakia. File photo

ARA News 

DAMASCUS – Backed by a Russian air cover, forces loyal to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday took control of a strategic village in the central province of Hama, subsequent to clashes with rebel fighters. 

The regime’s army seized Atshan village, a main stronghold for anti-Assad rebels in Hama province, after Russian fighter jets bombed rebels’ positions in the area. 

Local sources reported heavy fighting in the vicinity of Atshan, as Syrian regime forces aimed to push northwest and take a neighbouring hilltop. 

Supported by Russian air strikes, Assad forces have launched a major offensive on the town of Khan Sheikhun on a highway connecting Aleppo with the capital Damascus.

The highway has been used by rebel factions as a supply line for months. 

Russian air strikes, which began on September 30, have been hitting the strategic province of Hama along with other rebel-held areas in the neighbouring provinces of Latakia and Idlib. 

The Russian strikes appear to prevent any advance by anti-Assad rebel umbrella of the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fath), which includes among other rebel factions the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, that holds Idlib.

Moscow said its fighter jets had hit 55 IS targets in the past 24 hours. The strikes included Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Raqqa and Idlib provinces. Russian officials said they destroyed 29 training camps and 23 fighting positions for “terrorists”. 

On the other hand, rebels say that Hama, Idlib and Latakia have no ISIS presence, accusing Russia of targeting moderate and Islamist opposition fighters instead of the radical group. 

In Aleppo province, Islamist rebels, including Ahrar al-Sham Movement, regained Friday control of a village that has been held by ISIS for months, a rebel commander told ARA News. 

The Russian air strikes against rebels’ positions in Syria will complicate efforts of the U.S.-led coalition forces against terrorism, according to the opposition.

On Friday, the Pentagon said it would resume talks with Moscow to prevent potential military accidents in the Syrian airspace.

“Department leaders are reviewing the Russian response and talks are likely to take place as soon as this weekend,” spokesman Peter Cook said.

In the meantime, Washington announced it had decided to “pause” the programme to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.

Reporting by: Egid Ibrahim 

Source: ARA News

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