Syrian troops launch ground offensive in central regions
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.
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.