Syrian troops and their allies, backed by Russian jets, attacked rebel-held towns north of the city of Homs on Thursday, targeting a long-held, strategic enclave of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported.
The offensive, which began before dawn. built on over a week of ground attacks launched with Russian air support in areas of western Syria that are crucial to Assad’s survival and held by rebel groups other than Islamic State.
Syrian state television, quoting a military source, said the army had begun a military operation in the area after heavy air strikes and artillery barrages early Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain that monitors Syria’s four-year-old civil war, said at least five civilians and six insurgents had been killed in Teir Malla, about five kilometers north of Homs city.
A resident said at least 25 people were killed including, Rawad al Aksah, a commander of insurgent group Liwaa al-Tawhid.
A few kilometers further north, there were heavy air strikes around the town of Talbiseh and other villages in the area, the Observatory said, as well as fierce clashes on the southern edges of the town and nearby villages.
Recapturing the area north of Homs would help reassert Assad’s control over the main population centers of western Syria and secure territory linking Damascus to the coastal heartland of his minority Alawite sect.
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