Militants launched an offensive against government-held areas of northwestern Syria near Hama on Tuesday in their biggest attack in the area since March, triggering heavy air strikes on rebel-held areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said air strikes hit three hospitals, a medical centre and premises used by a rescue service in rebel-held Idlib. A Syrian military source denied the report, saying only insurgent convoys and positions had been hit.
The insurgent attack north of Hama revived hostilities in the northwestern region near the Turkish border that has been relatively calm in recent months as Russian-led diplomacy seeks to shore up ceasefires in western Syria. The militants who hold sway in Idlib reject the diplomacy, including a tripartite deal struck last week by Moscow, Teheran and Ankara for a deployment of an observer force on the edge of an Idlib ‘de-escalation zone’.
A Syrian army source cited by state media said the attack launched on several fronts was being repelled, and the insurgents had suffered losses.
“The clashes are continuing and the air force and artillery are targeting the headquarters and movements of the terrorist convoys in the area,” said the source.
An insurgent source said the rebels were making advances in the northern Hama countryside, situated in an area where President Bashar Al Assad and his allies have been steadily rolling back rebel gains over the last two years.
The Observatory said they had captured two villages. The insurgents taking part in the assault included the militants Turkistan Islamic Party and rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, it said.
A media outlet run by Hezbollah said Syrian army air strikes were targeting insurgents in the northern Hama and southern Idlib area. Insurgents advanced to within a few kilometres of the government-held city of Hama earlier this year, before the Syrian army and its allies retook the territory in April.
Ceasefires in western Syria – for years the main theatre of the country’s civil war – have helped the Syrian army and its allies advance against Islamic State in the east, where government forces are battling Daish at Deir Al Zor.
The rival forces have generally stayed out of each other’s way, with the Euphrates often acting as a dividing line.
Meanwhile, a booby-trapped motorbike exploded in Syrian city of Qamishli on Monday, killing a child and wounding six other people, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Syrian state TV said a motorbike had exploded and reported that four people were wounded but did not immediately mention deaths.