Syr­ian troops launch ground of­fen­sive in cen­tral re­gions

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AL­BERT AJI AND NATALIYA VASI­LYEVA

Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops launched a ground of­fen­sive Wed­nes­day in the coun­try’s cen­tral re­gion un­der cover of Rus­sian airstrikes, a Damascus of­fi­cial said. And in the first salvo from the sea, Rus­sian war­ships fired mis­siles into Syria, with Moscow say­ing they were tar­get­ing mil­i­tants.

The latest de­vel­op­ments — ex­actly a week af­ter Rus­sia be­gan launch­ing airstrikes in Syria — add a new layer to the fray in the com­plex war that has torn this Mideast coun­try apart since 2011.

Moscow has mainly tar­geted cen­tral and north­west­ern Syria, strate­gic re­gions that are the gate­way to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s strongholds in Damascus, and along the Mediter­ranean coast. But the strikes ap­pear to have given As­sad new con­fi­dence to try to re­take some lost ground.

Ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian of­fi­cial, the gov­ern­ment push is con­cen­trated in the ad­ja­cent prov­inces of Hama and Idlib where rebels have been ad­vanc­ing in the past months. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity in line with reg­u­la­tions.

The Is­lamic State group is not present in the ar­eas where the fight­ing is un­der­way.

Wed­nes­day’s of­fen­sive in cen­tral Syria and the en­su­ing clashes with mil­i­tants, in­clud­ing al-Qaida’s Syr­ian branch, was the first ma­jor ground fight­ing since Moscow be­gan launch­ing air raids in Syria last week.

Syr­ian Troops Em­bold­ened

The Rus­sian airstrikes ap­pear to have em­bold­ened Syr­ian troops to launch the ground push af­ter suf­fer­ing a string of set­backs in north­west­ern Syria over the past few months.

In Moscow, Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu said Rus­sia is us­ing war­ships in the Caspian Sea to tar­get the Is­lamic State group in Syria. Shoigu told Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in tele­vised re­marks that Rus­sia on Wed­nes­day morn­ing car­ried out 26 mis­sile strikes from four war­ships of its Caspian Sea flotilla. Shoigu in­sisted the op­er­a­tion de­stroyed all the tar­gets and did not launch any strikes upon civil­ian ar­eas.

Shoigu also said Rus­sia has car­ried out 112 airstrikes on IS posi- tions since its op­er­a­tion be­gan on Sept. 30.

The UK-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said a gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive be­gan on four fronts early Wed­nes­day in the north­west­ern prov­inces of Idlib and neigh­bor­ing Hama. Ob­ser­va­tory di­rec­tor Rami Ab­dur­rah­man de­scribed it as “the most in­tense fight­ing in months.”

In Syria, the leader of a U.S.backed rebel group, Ta­jammu Alez­zah con­firmed the ground of­fen­sive in a text mes­sage to the media, claim­ing there were Rus­sian and Ira­nian sol­diers in the op­er­a­tion.

The rebel group’s com­man­der, Maj. Jamil al-Saleh, said the of­fen­sive, ac­com­pa­nied by air cover and shelling, came from three fronts, in­clud­ing Latam­neh, north of the Hama province where his group is based, and Kfar Zeita to the north. The of­fen­sive tar­gets the ru­ral part of north­ern Hama and Idlib, the north­west­ern province, al­most to­tally con­trolled by rebel groups, he said.

AFP

Syr­ian chil­dren walk past de­bris while head­ing to school on the sec­ond day of the new school year on Tues­day, Oct. 6, in the Syr­ian Kur­dish town of Kobane.

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