Rebels began an offensive to capture the Sahl al-Ghab plains in northwest Hama late April in an attempt to cut off regime supply lines to remaining positions in southern Idlib province and facilitate a future attack on Latakia.

After three months of fighting with no decisive result, “civilians have been the worst off,” Ibrahim a-Shamali, alias of a Sahl al-Ghab-based correspondent with the pro-opposition Umayya Media Center, tells Ammar Hamou, with regime air raids pushing “most residents to leave these areas [in Sahl al-Ghab] for the refugee camps along the Turkish border."

Q: Have civilians benefitted from the Victory Army’s battles in the Hama and Idlib countrysides, or are they still suffering the consequences of combat?

“Until now civilians have been the worst off [in this campaign]. Thirty villages in Sahl al-Ghab are 80 percent destroyed, due to the intensity of the air raids across the area. The bombing is what pushed most residents to leave for refugee camps along the Turkish border.

Electricity is cut off in those areas under opposition control, while the pro-regime [predominantly Alawite] villages still have electricity.

If the rebels are able to take control of those areas and expel regime forces, I expect the situation will improve.”

Q: What are the most recent developments in Sahl al-Ghab?

“Rebels are trying to regain control of those areas they lost recently, and are advancing towards Jourein [which is located] near the coast. [On Sunday] the regime took back all the points that the Victory army had captured last week, most importantly the Harariya Power Station in Zeizun.

The regime has employed a scorched earth policy, including air raids and grad missiles. The Victory Army, in turn, regained control Monday over some points it had lost.”