Syria Expands Western Offensive Backed by Russian Strikes

Rebels Express Confidence They'll Hold Territory Around Hama

Backed by continued Russian airstrikes and cruise missile attacks, Syrian troops are pushing once again into rebel areas around the Hama Province, pushing into the al-Ghab plain to the west of the city of Hama, a key rebel stronghold in the region.

Syria launched this offensive yesterday in the area between Hama and Idlib Provinces, and seems to be expanding it elsewhere in Hama, with an eye on eventually pushing north into Idlib, a province held almost entirely by al-Qaeda.

Though Russia initially presented their involvement in the Syrian war as focused on ISIS, the fighting on the ground looks to be starting with the al-Qaeda-dominated northwest, likely reflecting efforts to strengthen the supply route between Damascus and the Latakia coast, the government’s last major strongholds.

From a Syrian government perspective, focus on the northwest promises some more high-profile, attainable gains in the near-term, and Russia likely sees the supply line move as protecting their own naval base at Tartus, a major focus of their decision to join the conflict.
The rebels in the area, however, don’t appear particularly concerned at being the first target of the offensive, and issued a statement predicting that they would ultimately retain the plain.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.