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Syria regime on the offensive outside Homs

Russian jets have provided aerial support for the government's attack.

Talbisa strike. (YouTube/Shaam News)

BEIRUT – Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes have started yet another offensive, this time against rebels controlling a pocket of territory north of Homs.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that the regime had launched a fierce assault on rebels “in the southern outskirts of the town of Talbisa and the area around the villages of Sinseel, Jawalek and Khalidiyah in a bid to storm the area.”

 

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV also touted the beginning of the offensive, but emphasized that it was a “limited military operation.”

 

Russian jets provided aerial support for the regime’s attack. “From dawn until now, Russian warplanes have carried out at least 15 raids on areas in the outskirts of Talbisa, one area in Teir Maalah and other areas in the village of Gharnata,” the SOHR reported.

 

Rebels control an approximately 50-kilometer wide pocket of territory north of Homs known as the “Rastan pocket,” which at its narrowest tendril stretches down directly from Talbisa along the key M-5 highway to the outskirts of the provincial capital.

 

However, regime forces have maintained a salient piercing into the rebel zone of control, which an insurgent offensive aimed to roll back in early May in a bid to consolidate opposition front-lines northwest of Homs.

 

Regime preparing wider offensive

 

A report published on Wednesday by the pro-Damascus outlet Syria al-Hadath said regime forces were preparing to launch “a wide operation in Rastan,” which it described as “the most complicated front… in north Homs.”

 

“The army’s forces are… at the highest levels of preparedness and aim to advance towards northern rural Homs,” a military source told the outlet, without mentioning Rastan by name.

 

“The plan’s priorities are currently [focused] on liberating the areas previously seized by the militants in order to connect the city of Homs with Hama.”

 

The report’s author went on to claim that “the Syrian army has intelligence information that will allow it to target the militants’ strategic centers in the town of Rastan.”

 

The report also claimed that dozens of civilians had left the town after crossings between government and rebel-held territory were secured by the army.

 

The Syrian regime on October 7 launched a wide-scale military operation in the northern Hama province in a bid to push rebels back in the area as part of a wider strategy focused on securing the frontlines along the government’s coastal heartland. 

 

The offensive has been backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, while pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar reported Tuesday that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops would soon begin operations to support the regime. 

 

Reports have emerged that one of the strategic goals of the Syrian regime is to secure the M5 highway leading from Hama to Homs.  

 

Rebels readying defense

 

Just as the regime is reportedly planning a wide-scale offensive between Homs and Hama, rebels have moved to coordinate their defense of the pocket of territory.

 

In what it termed a “military statement” the Facebook page of the Unified Media Office in Rastan announced that rebel factions in the north Homs town were preparing for engagements with regime forces.

 

“All military formations operating on the ground in the town of Rastan announce they have mobilized for combat and formed a unified joint operations room to confront the Russian-supported Assad regime… God is the arbiter of success.”

 

The statement added that the new operations room would was to come under the leadership of defected Syrian army officer Mohammed Shawki Ayyoub.

A plume of smoke rises over Talbisa following an airstrike Thursday. (YouTube/Shaam News)

The plan’s priorities are currently [focused] on liberating the areas previously seized by the militants in order to connect the city of Homs with Hama.