Syria troops push back rebels threatening air base
AFP, Tuesday 9 Sep 2014

Syrian troops have regained control of villages near a military air base in the central province of Hama, pushing back rebel fighters in the area, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops and pro-regime militiamen had made the advances in the past few days after months of fighting with rebel groups in the area.

Regime forces pushed back rebels "who were threatening the strategic Hama military airport, from which the regime launches air raids on several areas," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The advances came after the launch of an operation reportedly led by Suhail al-Hassan, the Syrian officer notorious for a brutal campaign of barrel bombing in Aleppo as well as operations in the northern province that have seen regime forces regain large stretches of territory.

Abdel Rahman said government troops were expected to continue their advance in the western part of Hama province by moving towards Halfaya, a stronghold of the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

The regime has already begun bombing raids on the area, including dropping two explosive-packed barrel bombs on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

In southern Quneitra province, meanwhile, where rebel forces seized the Syrian side of a crossing with Israeli-occupied territory last week, fighting continued between rebels and regime forces.

The Observatory said rebels had seized territory between Quneitra and Daraa province, and that the fighting in the area had prompted residents of surrounding villages to flee.

Around the capital Damascus, meanwhile, state news agency SANA reported at least five people killed Tuesday in mortar fire on the suburbs of Jaramana and neighbouring Kashkul.

The agency blamed "terrorists" for the fire, the term used by the government for all those seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Regime forces were also continuing operations in the areas of Dakhaniyeh, on the highway leading south from Damascus to Daraa, a security source said.

"The area has been surrounded and a number of armed men present have been eliminated in the course of the operation," the source said.

Operations were also ongoing in the eastern Damascus district of Jobar, which the regime is trying to wrest from rebel control.

Regime planes have carried out a fierce aerial campaign on the area, which they consider a key gateway to the neighbouring opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.

"The decision has been taken to continue operations until the return of security and stability to Jobar," the security source said.

"This is a step towards cleaning up in Eastern Ghouta."