31 August 2016 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Syria’s rebels advanced farther in northern Hama Province on the second day of their offensive on Tuesday.Having taken three villages and the town of Halfaya on Monday, the rebels moved into more villages and the town of Taibat al-Imam yesterday to close within 10 km (6 miles) of Hama city.The rebels regained al-Buwaydah, which they had briefly held on Monday before withdrawing under airstrikes. They then secured Taibat al-Imam. By last evening, they were in the village of Khattab, with a significant arms depot, northwest of Hama. They later withdrew just outside the village to avoid being surrounded by any counter-attak.
Local observers still believe an advance on Hama city is unlikely. Rebels may be considering a move to the west on Mahardeh. However, the town presents military and political challenge, as both a “reservoir” of manpower for pro-Assad forces and a significant Christian population.
The offensive is linked to the rebel gains since late July on the front southwest of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has broken a pro-Assad siege and taken a large artillery base. It is likely to force already-overstretched Syrian forces to choose between bolstering Hama or continuing the attempt to regain territory in southwest Aleppo, possibly moving forces from Latakia Province to the west and checking efforts to advance there.
On Tuesday, the regime and its foreign allies, including Iran and Hezbollah, appeared to be concentrating on the Aleppo front.Yet another attempt to re-enter the artillery base and air force college, taken by rebels in early July, failed although pro-Assad forces reportedly did take the hill of Sanoubrat.
However, pro-regime outlets claimed success in an offensive to the west of Aleppo city, claiming an advance on Khan Tuman, the town on the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway taken by rebels in early April. Rebels disputed the claims, saying that they had regained the village of Qarassi after a 15-hour battle. They did acknowledge that the pro-Assad forces had taken two hills, Mahryquot and Jamiyat. www.mesop.de