23 März 2017 – BY eaworldview – Rebels closed within 5 km (3 miles) of Syria’s fourth-largest city Hama on the second day of their offensive in northern Hama Province.
The offensive, including the Islamists of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and units of the Free Syrian Army, captured more than 90 square kilometers (33 square miles) on Wednesday. Having begun with the takeover of the town of Souran on Tuesday, the rebels advanced through Khattab and moved west and south. By the evening, they overran regime defenses in the village of Arzeh and the nearby al-Shayha hill (see map), 5 km (3 miles) from Hama city.
Pro-rebel activists said 25 villages have been occupied, with the capture of 11 armored vehicles and destruction of five others.Rebels are also within 5 km of Hama airport, close enough to attack it with anti-tank guided missiles. The airport, which is key position for Iranian and Russian forces, has the the largest ammunition dumps in the area and hosts an important barrel bomb factory.Regime efforts to counter the offensive have been hampered by the cut-off of all major routes for reinforcements. Rebels in the Rastan pocket in northern Homs Province reportedly cut the road to Hama , and Highway 56 from Latakia was also blocked. The Islamic State, fighting the regime in eastern Aleppo Province, has occupied the Aleppo-to-Hama highway.
Rebels Hold Damascus Gains
The Hama offensive is the second front opened by anti-Assad forces this week. On Sunday, attacks led by Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham took key positions in Jobar in northeastern Damascus, claiming Abbassiyeen Square, the Fares Khouri road leading into it, and the bus garage by Tuesday.Regime forces, aided by more than 75 airstrikes, tried on Monday to reverse the initial gains. However, yesterday rebels appeared to be consolidating their advance, including into much of the industrial zone, despite more aerial attacks. The offensive has established an overground link between rebels in Jobar and those in Damascus suburbs such as Qaboun, Barzeh, and Tishreen, which pro-Assad forces have been attacking for weeks in an attempt to quell much of the remaining rebel resistance near the capital.
Syrian State media has not acknowledged the rebel advances in either Hama or Damascus, insisted that the Syrian army has “foiled an attack…inflicting heavy losses upon terrorists”.