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Syria rebels attack regime forces in Hama

Offensive comes on the heels of Astana talks where Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed on a ‘de-escalation’ plan

Gulf News

Beirut: Rebel groups launched a big attack on regime-held areas in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a media outlet run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah reported.

The attack north of Hama city spearheaded by rebel groups marks the biggest offensive in that area since March, and underlines the complications facing Russian-led diplomatic efforts to preserve ceasefires in western Syria.

Several groups participated in the well-planned attack on regime-held villages, the Observatory said, including Tahrir Al Sham -- an alliance of Islamist groups spearheaded by the rebel group formerly known as Al Nusra Front.

The Hezbollah-run military news outlet said the army and its allies were repelling what it described as a large-scale attack in the area by Al Nusra Front and factions affiliated to it.

The Observatory said warplanes were carrying out air strikes in the area and fierce clashes were underway. Rebels had launched heavy bombardments of regime-held positions, it said.

The rebels taking part in the assault included the Turkistan Islamic Party and a group fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, the Observatory said.

Rebels advanced within a few kilometres of the regime-held city of Hama earlier this year, before the Syrian army and its allies retook the territory in April.

The northern Hama area is adjacent to the rebel-held province of Idlib, which is largely controlled by Al Nusra.

Ceasefires in western Syria —for years the main theatre of the Syrian civil war—have helped the Syrian army and its allies advance against Daesh in the east, where regime forces are battling the group at Deir Al Zor.

Last week, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed at talks in Kazakhstan to post observers on the edge of “a de-escalation zone” in Idlib region. Al Nusra Front denounced ceasefire talks in Kazakhstan, and vowed to keep fighting.