Assad regime forces in Hama Province, Syria (File)

Russia has tried to dismiss difficulties with a Russian-regime offensive to overrun the last major opposition area in Syria, covering up a counter-attack by anti-Assad forces.

The May 6 offensive, shattering a demilitarized zone declared by Russia and Turkey last September, initially took several towns in northwest Hama Province.

However, this week rebels and the hardline Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham regained the town of Kafr Naboudeh and closed on Qalaat al-Mudiq. According to citizen journalists and pro-opposition activists, regime forces suffered heavy losses, including the capture or killing of commanders.

The head of the Russian Center for “Reconciliation” in Syria, Gen. Viktor Kupchishin, refused to acknowledged the rebel gains on Friday. Instead he asserted that attacks had been repelled, killing up to 350 “terrorists” and destroying five tanks and an armored infantry carriers near Kafr Naboudah.

The general did implicitly recognize the counter-attack when he said “more than 800 militants” and at least 10 armored vehicles had moved to the front. He also repeated Russia’s disinformation that rebels are planning chemical attacks.

Kupchishin did not refer to the regime’s failure, after four attempts, to capture the mountaintop town of Kabani in neighboring Latakia Province. The town is a key entry point into Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, where an estimated three million people — about 20% of Syria’s remaining population — live.

The UN said on Thursday that more than 200,000 people have fled their homes since late April while the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) estimated more than 300,000.

The UN confirmed that since the end of April, there have been 20 attacks on healthcare facilities and one on an ambulance. Nineteen facilities, serving at least 200,000 people, have been bombed out of action.

The UOSSM said at least 229 civilians have been killed during the four weeks, mainly by bombing and shelling of non-military targets across Idlib and northwest Hama.