October 2, 2015

Syria regime preparing Homs offensive: activists

Civilians were allegedly asked to evacuate a series of strategic villages.




Syrian regime forces outside Homs. (AFP)

BEIRUT – The Syrian regime has been preparing for an offensive on a series of villages located on a strategic road northwest of Homs as Russia increases the tempo of its airstrikes, according to activists.


“Today, the regime ordered civilians to leave [villages outside Homs] as a preliminary step to storming them,” opposition media activist Anwar Abu al-Walid wrote Friday on his Facebook page.


He said that the order applied to the villages of Jawalek, Sneisil and Al-Mahatta, all of which are located between rebel-controlled territory in northern rural Homs and regime controlled areas around the central Syrian city.


“They are civilian [populated] villages first and foremost and there have been no clashes in them since the ceasefire in the village of Al-Dar Al-Kabirah around a year ago,” Abu al-Walid added.


“There has been a decampment of civilians from them and the rebels have confirmed that they will confront any attempt by regime forces to advance towards them.”


Meanwhile, the activist Syrian Mirror outlet reported an “unprecedented mobilization” of regime forces in the nearby villages of Rafeen and Khirbet al-Soda—which was attacked by pro-regime forces in a May 2013 raid—as well as the water facility near the Qazhal Bridge.


Strategic importance


Abu al-Walid explained that the villages lie on a strategic position close to the road northwest leading from Homs toward the town of Masyaf, which lies between the Hama province and the regime’s coastal heartland.


“It is now clear that the regime and Russia are trying to secure [pro-regime coastal areas],” he said.


The activist also noted that the villages lie on the road leading to the Al-Waer district of Homs, which is the last pocket or rebel territory in the central city.


Rebels control an approximately 50-kilometer wide pocket of territory north of Homs 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.


The purported regime mobilization to seize the villages northwest of Homs comes days after Russia began its airstrikes on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad government.


A number of the Russian strikes targeted rebel positions in towns north of Homs—including Talbisah and Ghantu—not far from where the activists said the regime was preparing its offensive.