Syria opposition groups repel Russia-backed regime assault

Opposition manages to hold its own against first ground offensive by Syrian regime to enjoy Russian air support, say local sources

Syria opposition groups repel Russia-backed regime assault

HAMA, Syria

Armed opposition groups in Syria’s western Hama province managed Wednesday to repel the first ground offensive to be launched by the Syrian regime with Russian air support, local sources told Anadolu Agency.

According to the sources, Syrian regime forces -- with Russian air cover -- had recently advanced on the towns of Kafr Nabuda, Kafr Zaita and Latamna north of Hama city. 

In subsequent clashes that remain ongoing, opposition forces managed to destroy several regime tanks and armored vehicles, while also killing a number of Syrian soldiers, the same sources said.

Regime forces are currently trying to capture Idlib province’s southern countryside by establishing control over the Al-Sayyad and Al-Hawwash hills.

Control of southern Idlib would allow the regime to stage further advances on the strategic Sahl al-Ghab area, which represents a flashpoint between Sunni-majority villages that support the opposition and Alawite-majority villages that support the regime.

“The Al-Sham Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Soqour al-Jabal opposition groups have established a joint military operations command with a view to repelling the regime’s offensive,” Ibrahim Jaber, a Free Syrian Army commander, told Anadolu Agency.

Russian air support for the regime, he added, represented a “major disadvantage” for armed opposition groups.

According to local sources, at least nine people, most of them civilians, were killed Wednesday as a result of Russian airstrikes that accompanied the regime’s ongoing offensive.

Six people were killed and 10 others injured in airstrikes in the town of Al-Hubaid in Idlib, local activist Mahmoud Abu Ras told Anadolu Agency.

Meanwhile, two women and a child were killed by Russian airstrikes carried out in Aleppo, according to the opposition-run Shahba Press Agency.

Over the course of the last few days, local activists have reported that thousands of civilians had fled their homes in opposition-held areas of the northern Hama province in anticipation of a regime offensive.

Russia first began carrying out airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30.

According to the Kremlin, the airstrikes -- which follow a recent Russian military build-up in Syria -- are meant to support the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a longstanding ally of Russia, against the Daesh militant group.

Turkey and several western countries, however, accuse Russia of targeting moderate forces opposed to Assad, many of which are supported by Turkey and the U.S.

Syria has been gripped by bitter fighting since the Assad regime cracked down on anti-government protests -- which began in early 2011 as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings -- with unexpected ferocity.

According to the UN, more than 250,000 people have since been killed in the conflict, which continues to pit several heavily-armed factions -- including Daesh and the regime itself -- against one another.

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