AMMAN: Two Islamist rebel brigades attacked regime positions in northwest Hama province on Monday, reportedly advancing to within three kilometers of a major regime base directly east of Latakia city, a citizen journalist and an FSA commander not directly involved in the fighting told Syria Direct.

Fighters with Jund al-Aqsa and the Turkistan Islamic Movement, two Islamist groups with links to Al-Qaeda, “advanced on the Jourin military base” Monday after capturing a string of villages in the adjacent northwest Hama plains, the director of the Hama Media Center, Hassan al-Omari, told Syria Direct.

Jund al-Aqsa announced their attack on Jourin via social media on Sunday afternoon: “Your Mujahideen brothers have attacked several positions of the Nusayri army in Sahl al-Ghab in the past few hours,” said the tweet, posted on Sunday, using a derogatory term for the Alawite sect. 

Jund al-Aqsa tanks fire on regime positions east of Jourin. Photo courtesy of @jondAqsa6.

Jourin, 43km east of Latakia city, “is one of the largest regime bases in western Hama and the first line of defense for the Alawite villages in eastern Latakia,” said al-Omari.

The Islamists launched their attacks “in response to the regime’s repeated violations to the ongoing truce,” added al-Omari.

The Sahl al-Ghab, or Hama plains, region divides the coastal regime stronghold around Latakia city and rebel-held northwest Hama province. Since the US-Russian sponsored “cessation of hostilities” went into effect on February 27, the Hama plains have remained largely calm, with little direct fighting.

Despite the ceasefire, rebels say the regime used its forward positions in Sahl al-Ghab to shell rebel-held villages in Hama and Idlib provinces in recent weeks. Officially the ceasefire agreement does not apply to the “Islamic State, Jabhat a-Nusra, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.”

“The regime violated the truce multiple times from [their base in] Sahl al-Ghab,” Abdelkarim al-Hamawi, an FSA commander not directly involved in the battle but active nearby, told Syria Direct.

“The source of the shelling was always Jourin,” he added, a claim Syria Direct could not independently verify.

The Sahl al-Ghab plains are not the only area where fighting has recently resumed between rebels and pro-regime forces. Over the past 48 hours clashes between rebels and pro-regime fighters south of Aleppo, 100km northeast of Sahl al-Ghab, resulted in dozens of casualties on both sides, Middle East Eye reported.

The escalation in fighting led opposition negotiator Bassma Kodmani to tell journalists in Geneva on Sunday that the “ceasefire is about to collapse.”

Opposition and regime delegations in Geneva are slated to resume negotiations on April 13.