Hama – Idlib border boils, loyalists battle to reopen road to Aleppo

NOV 2

Holding the HamaIdlib border  is vital to both sides. Control provides a gateway for either faction looking to advance. Rebels want to push on greater Hama from their bases in Kafr Zita, Kahn Sheikhoun , Taman’aa and al- Lataminah. Government forces must hold their positions north of Hama, namely Morek, or else risk losing their grip. Should the rebel offensive falter, loyalists would likely use these bases to attack north into Idlib.

Airstrikes targeted positions around Rasm al-Tina, Kafr Zita, Athrya, Eykirbat, al-Latamina and Latmin, SANA wrote. They also reportedly hit ISIS positions in  Athraya, Jana al-Ilbawi, Rasm al-Tina, Rasm Amon, al-Rahraha and Tanahij. According to the state media outlet, Russian and Syrian airpower carried out 59 sorties, hitting 94 targets across Syria during the previous 24 hours.

Abu Bara reports from Lahaya, south of rebel held Kafr Zita and loyalist held Morek. 

Further to the northwest, opposition and government forces clashed over granaries in al- Mansoura, wrote the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Rebels shot down a drone over the town, the Observatory also reported on Monday.

Hardened bunkers under construction, meant to counter increasing airstrikes.

SOHR reported Taman’aa bombed alongside a rebel assassination attempt between Ma’arrat al- Nu’man and Saraqeb.

In line with Russian rhetorical practice, FARS News reported ISIS positions in Latnim hit by airstrikes, even though most sources don’t acknowledge ISIS territory in that part of Hama. They also wrote of strikes hitting Khan Sheikhoun, an opposition stronghold.

Amid the intensive bombing and shelling by both sides, the UN announced that 120,000 people were displaced in October. This shattered their preliminary estimate of 50,000.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported widespread fighting throughout Hama. Ground fighting between rebel and loyalist forces broke out at Aqrab, Morek and Ma’er Kebbah. Government forces shelled villages west of Hama while rebels targeted Mhardah and Masasnah with ordinance. al- Mansoura, Jana al- Elbawi and Kafr Zita recieved air raids by either jet or helicopter, the Observatory wrote.

Government tank hit by TOW near Morek. 

FSA Central Division promo on northern Hama fighting. 

Meanwhile, rebel leaders denied attending diplomatic missions in Moscow, contrary to Russian reports that they were in town for talks. Sputnik insinuated that a lack of internal communication on the part of FSA groups may be responsible for their statements.

Wednesday saw continued fighting around M’aarkbeh and Morek, SOHR reported, with government forces shelling al- Sayyad. In Sahl al- Ghab, rockets bombarded targets in Tal Wassit and al- Mansoura, the monitoring group wrote.

Engagements continued around Morek. Opposition groups took control of Sukayk amid airstrikes, reported Qasioun News. After two weeks of fighting, opposition forces captured Sukayk from government troops, pro-government al- Masdar News confirmed. The capture of the Sukayk provided a gateway into Ashtan. If that town fell, the source said, the government’s October gains would be lost, al- Masdar News wrote.

Rebels move on Sukayk.

Airstrikes hit the town after its capture. 

Sham Corps tour of Sukayk.

Government air power hit Kafr Zita while ground forces allegedly retreated from some positions around Morek, SOHR reported the next day. ARA News wrote of rebel advances in Hama and the loss of government armor in Morek and Lahaya.

Government forces engaged the opposition around al- Lataminah, al- Hbyt and Maarkaba, FARS News reported. al- Masdar News wrote that government forces shored up their position in Morek after clearing several buildings on the outskirts of town, plus a chunk of road leading into the city.

Fighting continued around Sukayk, with intense shelling around other parts of Idlib. Rebels recovered five of their dead upon retaking Sukayk the day before, SOHR wrote. Ground to ground missiles hit Khan Sheikhoun, Tal Aas and Abdin, they also claimed. More strikes landed in the following days, hitting Khan Sheikhoun, Taman’aa and Sukayk, plus Maarrat al- Nu’man and Taftanaz further north.

A fortified government position in Morek fired M-46 artillery guns and Grad rockets at Sukayk, Taman’aa and Khan Sheikhoun, reported TASS on Thursday. The commander on location said the goal was to push the rebels north into Idlib province out of Hama. At the end of the report, an SAA private thanked Russia for its support in the war effort, TASS wrote.

Meanwhile, government air power hit al- Lataminah and Jabriya, according to SOHR. On Saturday rebels attacked al- Bana, al- Janbera, al- Sakher, and Kafr Naboudeh, the Observatory reported. They also told of heavy government shelling of Kafr Naboudeh and Kafr Zita. Airstrikes reportedly continued over Lahaya, Kafar Zita, Tawtah, Abo Mru, Aniq and Bajrah.

Sham Front promo on their fight for Kafr Naboudeh

All this violence causes families in these regions to flee and many are reportedly pooling in the north of Idlib along the Turkish border, where the fortunate among them live in tarp tents. A shortage of qualified medical staff in the region led to a training program for civilian responders, Syria Direct wrote. A high number of medical mistakes prompted the establishment of the training, pharmacists Ali al-Atiq told them.

Health workers vaccinate children in rebel held Idlib.

Rebel commanders also rejected a transition plan put forth by Iran, wrote Reuters. The deal would include a six month period in which Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s fate would be decided by popular elections. Citing his presidency as the root of the problem – in addition to the chaos and disorder of a nearly five year civil war – opposition leaders said any results could not possibly be legitimate.

While initially successful, an ISIS attempt to cut the Khanasser-Aleppo highway east of Hama failed due to attrition, al- Masdar News wrote early last week. ISIS lost 100 to 120 fighters while government forces lost 41, a military source told the publication.

Despite initial claims, ISIS gains along the road stuck. Government forces clashed with ISIS around Sheikh Hlal, northeast of Salamiyya, wrote SOHR. An ISIS bomb exploded a minibus along al-Saan-Jib Khsara near al-Salamiyeh, a police source told SANA. The incident reportedly injured three civilians.

Government forces reclaimed positions lost to ISIS along the Raqqa-Salamiyeh under the cover of air power, al- Masdar wrote on Wednesday. SAA and NDF forces then pushed to Sheikh Hilal to claim a buffer zone protecting the highway, the report read.

Parts of the Khanasser-Ithriyah highway remained under ISIS control. The militant group laid landmines to slow the government counterattack, al- Masdar reported. Clashes between the government and ISIS continued along the Khanasser Highway, FARS News wrote.

Hezbollah reinforcements arrived from Khanasser on Thursday morning to help with the clearing efforts, al- Masdar wrote. Government forces reportedly had to abandon an offensive in south Aleppo to reopen the road north of Ithriya. While the route remained closed, pro-Damascus forces captured Tal Ithriya, overlooking the town and shored up their position in Sheikh Hilal, according to al- Masdar News. SOHR acknowledged that loyalists won modest gains along the route.

Meanwhile in Latakia, al- Masdar News trumpeted an overall success of the loyalist offensive, citing gains in northeast Latakia and in nearby Sahl al- Ghab over the past thee weeks. On Monday, they continued their fight against Jabhat al- Nusra and the FSA 1st Coastal Division at Jabal al- Akrad and areas north of Kataf Al-Ghaddar, al- Masdar wrote. Tartitiyah and Salma are reportedly among their highest priorities.

Salma had been subject to raids the previous day, reported SOHR. The Observatory also reported Kabana, southeast of Jabal al- Akrad bombed, as well as door-to-door raids in the Latakia neighborhood of Slayba. No reports on arrests were provided.

Tuesday saw Russia’s first confirmed death in Syria, deemed a suicide by a Russian Defense Ministry preliminary investigation. A breakup with his girlfriend appeared to be the reason, though his family reportedly doubts this.

While government forces shelled and bombed locations around Jabal al- Akrad, rebel forces pushed of Kafr Delbah, SOHR reported. Fighting continued there into the next day. Clashes reportedly broke out at Jub al- Ahmar on Sunday, continuing throughout the day. Government forces threatened to capture Ghamam, SOHR reported, while rebels shelled loyalists near Kafaria. On Sunday, al- Masdar News reported Ghamam under full government control. Later, both rebel and loyalist sources reported opposition control of the town.

NDF operations around Ghamam

For background about Jaysh al- Fatah, check out last week’s writeup. (Links from October 21 – 25)

Start at the beginning with my fall of Idlib post. (Links from 2011 – Summer 2015)

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