AMMAN: Syrian rebel fighters advanced to within 10km of the Hama city limits on Thursday after four days of steady advances in a campaign aimed at “relieving pressure on opposition forces in Aleppo,” two rebel commanders present in northern Hama told Syria Direct.
The rebels have captured nearly 75 square kilometers of territory including the village of Maardes, located less than 10km north of Hama city. Maardes is the closest the rebels have gotten to the heavily guarded provincial capital since roughly 2014.
“This advance puts us very close to the Hama military airport, which we are now shelling,” Abd a-Razaq al-Husayn, a spokesman with one of the participating rebel brigades, the FSA’s Jaysh al-Izza, told Syria Direct on Thursday.
Jaysh al-Izza fighters, al-Husayn said, are only a “few” kilometers from the military airport, which is located directly east of Hama city. The airport is one of the bases for air raids on rebel-controlled Idlib and western Aleppo provinces.
“Every day planes take off from the Hama airport and kill civilians living here,” a second FSA spokesman, Abu al-Majd al-Homsi of Jaysh a-Nasr, told Syria Direct Thursday.
However the battle, both commanders said, is about more than Hama.
“We are trying to use this battle in north Hama to relieve the pressure on Aleppo,” said al-Homsi.
Jaysh al-Izza spokesman al-Husayn also said the goal was to support rebels fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, on Thursday.
In a video uploaded by Jaysh a-Nasr on Wednesday, a rebel unit uses a TOW missile to explode a regime personnel carrier in the north Hama countryside. Photo courtesy of Jeish a-Nasr.
Jaysh al-Izza and Jeish al-Nasr, two TOW-operating groups which have received US training and weapons in the past, initially launched the three-pronged Hama offensive with hardline Islamist group Jund al-Aqsa on Sunday.
As the rebels advanced, an additional six armed opposition groups, including Feilaq a-Sham and Ahrar a-Sham, jumped onto the campaign.
In response to the rebel advance, SAA forces had withdrawn on Thursday to a main line of defense spanning from the Rahbet Khattab Military Base, in the west, to Mount Kafraa, northeast of Hama city, as regime warplanes pounded opposition positions.
Syrian planes conducted sorties “killing more than 10 terrorists… and destroying an armored personnel carrier” in north Hama, state-run SANA reported Thursday.
At the time of writing, pro-regime media outlets and social media accounts were circulating unconfirmed reports of Syrian regime reinforcements heading to north Hama from Aleppo.
The regime “has been forced to send some of their best forces from Aleppo governorate” to north Homs, pro-regime Al-Masdar News reported Thursday.
The “Syrian armed forces [have] their backs against the wall as they wait for their reinforcement to counter,” read the same Al-Masdar report.
In mid-2014, the Syrian regime was forced to deploy units known as the Tiger Forces, commanded by Air Force Intelligence officer Suheil al-Hassan, to successfully drive back a similar rebel advance on Hama city.