State television says forces had taken control of Al-Dar Al-Kabirah village, just north of Homs city
BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces backed by Russian air strikes launched an offensive in the central province of Homs on Thursday, Syria’s state media and a monitor said.
State television, citing a military source, said the army had begun a military operation in north and northwest Homs province “with the goal of restoring security and stability to the villages and towns in the area”.
It said its forces had taken control of the village of Al-Dar Al-Kabirah, just north of Homs city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Russian planes had launched at least 15 air strikes in the area of fighting, killing at least 10 people, six of them rebels.
The Britain-based monitor reported heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels, particularly south of the rebel-held town of Talbisseh, which lies on the highway between the cities of Homs and Hama.
A military source in Syria told AFP the Homs operation was “linked strategically” to regime operations in neighbouring Hama province in recent days.
“The operation will continue until it reaches its goal of securing northern Homs and severing contacts between militants in Hama and militants in Homs,” the source said.
Homs city is controlled by regime forces, with the exception of a single neighbourhood, and Hama city is also under government control.
But the area between the two provincial capitals, including the highway connecting them, is largely controlled by a patchwork of moderate and Islamist rebel groups and al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
The operation in Homs is the latest example of regime forces working with Russian airpower to advance against opposition fighters.
Russia began an air campaign in Syria on September 30, saying it was targeting the Islamic State jihadist group and other “terrorists.”
But Syrian rebel and their backers say Moscow’s firepower has been directed at moderate and opposition fighters rather than extremists.
The regime is also seeking to advance with Russian air support in northern Hama province and the Sahl al-Ghab region between Hama, Idlib and Latakia provinces.