© AFP | Syrian Civil Defence volunteers search for survivors after people fleeing the town of Souran, in Hama province, were reportedly targeted by a regime air strike, on September 1, 2016
At least 25 civilians, including children, were killed in the strikes early Thursday as fighting raged in parts of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said an alliance of rebel and jihadist forces had launched an offensive on Monday in Hama, which is south of the opposition-held Idlib province.
The alliance, which includes the jihadist Jund Al-Aqsa force, is aiming to take control of the airport in Hama, from which regime helicopters fly regular sorties against opposition fighters.
“They are about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the airport” in Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a broad network of sources inside Syria.
The rebels are also likely seeking to ease pressure on opposition fighters in the battleground northern city of Aleppo by distracting regime forces.
In three days the rebel alliance seized control of 13 populated areas, mainly in the north of Hama province, including the towns of Halfaya and Suran.
They were also threatening the historic Christian town of Mahrada to the west along the road.
Hama province is of vital strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, separating opposition forces in Idlib from Damascus to the south and the regime’s coastal heartlands to the west.
Major demonstrations erupted in Hama in 2011 during the outbreak of Syria’s civil conflict but were suppressed in a deadly government crackdown.
Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad brutally put down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama city in 1982, killing thousands of people.
Tags: Aleppo, Assad, Bashar al Assad, Daesh, Hafez al-Assad, Hama offensive, Hama province, Idlib province, Is, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic state, Jihadists, Jund Al-Aqsa force, Mahrada, Muslim Brotherhood, President Bashar al-Assad, Souran, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian opposition fighters