Syria regime suffers Hama setback

The Army of Conquest rebel coalition stormed Morek on Wednesday night.

Morek. (Twitter/Orient TV)

BEIRUT – Syrian rebels have stormed into a regime-held bastion in northern Hama, the latest setback suffered by government forces after they launched an offensive in the province in early October.


The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported mid-morning Thursday that the Islamist Jund al-Aqsa group and other rebel factions had taken “full control of large parts of Morek,” a town seized by regime forces in October 2014 after eight months of heavy clashes.


The monitoring NGO also reported the “death and injury of dozens of regime forces members” and said it had received “confirmed information of human losses in the ranks of Jund al-Aqsa.”


“Clashes between the two sides are ongoing on the eastern and southern outskirts of the town.”


By mid-day Thursday, images began circulating on social media showing rebels in possession of abandoned regime armor in the town, while pro-opposition media claimed rebel fighters had seized 10 tanks. 



Pro-rebel reporter Saif al-Hamawi in front of a captured BMP in Morek. (Twitter)


Reports of Morek's capture comes after the Army of Conquest coalition announced Wednesday night that it had “fully liberated the town after regime convoys withdrew to Soran,” a nearby village.


Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera gave a similar account of the fighting, saying that Jund al-Aqsa had breached the regime’s main defensive line in Morek after a heavy artillery barrage on the town by the Army of Conquest, forcing a regime withdrawal.


Jund al-Aqsa, an extremist Islamist group formed as an Al-Qaeda subsidiary, recently rejoined the Army of Conquest after withdrawing from the coalition in October 24 over doctrinal and operational disputes.


Pro-regime sources that evening also reported that regime forces had withdrawn, with Al-Masdar news saying that the Army of Conquest was in “full control” of Morek.


However, reports of ongoing fighting in Morek continued to emerge through the night until the morning.


The SOHR in the early hours of Thursday said that “fierce clashes have continued inside… Morek between regime forces supported by the NDF and allied fighters of Syrian, Arab and Asian nationalities on one side and Islamist and fighting factions, including Jund al-Aqsa, on the other.”


“There has been a new advance by Jund al-Aqsa and the fighting factions in the area and they have seized the western section of the village.”


Army of Conquest boasts


A top commander in the Army of Conquest boasted that his forces’ success in Morek has paved the way for the Islamist coalition to press its offensive against regime troops.


“Morek is the gateway to controlling several villages in northern Rural Hama and the beginning of the march to control the city of Hama and its military airport,” Abu Abdul Latif told Al-Jazeera Net.


The commander praised Jund al-Aqsa for joining the fight, saying its return to the Army of Conquest “was a step in the right direction towards coordinating attacks on regime forces and pro-regime militias in northern rural Hama and Al-Ghab Plain.”


He also mocked Moscow’s aerial campaign, claiming that “Russia’s warplanes were unable to stop the advance of opposition forces despite heavy strikes on their positions.”


“They were completely unable to provide support to regime forces.”


The Army of Conquest launched its northern Hama campaign on October 23, pushing regime forces back along the hotly contested frontlines.


The attacks came after the regime’s own offensive, which began on October 7, stalled amid fierce fighting that saw government forces suffer heavy losses.


A spike in rebel anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) attacks on regime armor following the start of the offensive destroyed a number of tanks in coordinated operations activist media dubbed “tank massacres.”

Orient TV's Hashem Abdullah in Morek on Thursday morning. (Twitter/Orient TV)

Clashes between the two sides are ongoing on the eastern and southern outskirts of the town.