Syria Daily: Russian Bombing Enables Pro-Assad Advance in Northern Hama

Russian bombing helps pro-Assad forces take town of Halfaya, opening up all of northern Hama Province to an offensive


SUNDAY FEATURE

Damascus Beyond the Propaganda: “Iranians Are First. And the Russians Are Gods”


UPDATE 0800 GMT: Multiple reports say pro-Assad forces, including Iranian-led foreign militias, have moved into Halfaya in northern Hama Province.

HALFAYA CAPTURED


Enabled by some of the heaviest Russian bombing in Syria’s six-year conflict, pro-Assad forces have turned the tide and are looking for a decisive breakthrough in northern Hama Province.

Only last month, a rebel counter-offensive had reached as close as 5 km (3 miles) from both Hama city and the military airport, threatening to break Iranian-led foreign militias as well as what remains of the Syrian army.

But Russia escalated its bombing — with intensive use of incendiary and thermobaric munitions — putting a priority on Hama over all fronts. After holding the line north of Hama city, the pro-Assad forces began to regain some of the 25 towns and villages taken by the rebels. Earlier this month, they completed the recapture of lost territory and then looked to make their own decisive advance.

Earlier this week the foreign militias and regime units moved into Taibat al-Imam, on the Damascus-to-Aleppo highway, after rebels withdrew under pressure from the Russian airstrikes.

By Friday, the pro-Assad forces were advancing on the town of Halfaya, both from the south and from Taibat al-Imam to the east.

Located on the Orontes River, Halfaya has swapped hands several times during Syria’s 73-month conflict, but it has been controlled by rebels since August 2016.

The Free Idlib Army, part of the Free Syrian Army, has issued an order for general mobilization to hold the line in northern Hama. So far, attacks on Halfaya have been repelled.

Russia is also continuing its sustained bombing of the town of Latamneh, north of Halfaya, which has been attacked with incendiary, thermobaric, and chlorine munitions over the past month.

A child cries among the destruction in the town:

Destroying the Last Medical Facility in Southern Idlib Province

The campaign to destroy infrastructure in neighboring opposition-held Idlib Province also continues unabated. Aftermath of Russian and regime strikes in southern Idlib Province, including destruction of the Shaam underground hospital near the village of Abdin:

Pro-opposition media said multiple raids killed three doctors in the operating room, destroyed by rockets that penetrated more than 10 meters.

A first responder said four patients were killed, but warned that the death toll may increase.

“Today, we’re trying to retrieve three bodies—a father, a mother and their daughter—who were present in the hospital at the moment it was targeted,” said the Civil Defense’s Ahmed al-Idlibi.

The clinic was about 10 km west of Khan Sheikhoun, the town hit by the Assad regime’s nerve agent attack on April 4 and whose hospital was bombed during the assault.

The last significant medical facility in southern Idlib, the Shaam facility has been attacked and partially destroyed three times in less than two months. After each of the previous attacks, hospital administrators rebuilt and relocated the facility, most recently attempting to shelter the building under seven meters of rock.

Hospital administrators said on Sunday that they are questioning whether it is worth rebuilding this time.

“We’re looking into new plans to transfer all health care work to the border areas if the warplanes don’t stop targeting medical facilities,” Dr. Abdullah al-Darwish, the head of Hama’s Healthcare Directorate, told Syria Direct.. “If even underground caves are targeted, why should the hospitals stay here?”

Since February 1, Russia and the Assad regime have attacked more than a dozen medical facilities across opposition-controlled areas of Idlib and Hama Provinces. The bombing has completely destroyed at least seven major hospitals, two field hospitals, four specialized clinics, and one medical warehouse.

Residents now must travel up to 100 km (62 miles) to receive medical care in Idlib City.

“The international community has been silent amidst all these attacks on medical facilities,” said Dr. Maram al-Sheikh, Shaam’s director.
“It’s reaching the point where bombing a hospital is just commonplace now. It’s not even newsworthy anymore.”

Clearing up after the attacks:

Assault on Qaboun, Northeast of Damascus

There is also intensive bombing of Qaboun, northeast of Damascus, as pro-Assad forces try once again to overrun the suburb.

The pro-Assad offensive has bombarded Qaboun and nearby towns like Barzeh and Tishreen for months in an attempt to clear out remaining opposition. The assault was interrupted last month by a rebel offensive in Jobar in northeast Damascus, briefly reconnecting with the suburbs, but has resumed with an escalation of the airstrikes and shelling.

QABOUN BOMBING 04-17 2

TOP PHOTO: Smoke rises from pro-Assad bombardment of Halfaya in northern Hama Province, April 22, 2017

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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