Syrian rebels launch wide-scale attack on government forces
Syrian opposition rebels launched late Tuesday a wide-scale attack on government forces to try to retrieve areas they lost earlier this month in the northern countryside of Hama in central Syria, activists and a monitoring group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels started their attack with a suicide attack on the Kfar Naboude front in the northern countryside of Hama.
The watchdog said battles on the Kfar Naboude front resulted in the killing of 26 Syrian government troops as well as 18 opposition fighters.
Activists posted pictures of rebels driving tanks and firing mortar shells on Syrian army posts in the northern countryside of Hama.
One activist, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told dpa that the opposition fighters managed to advance on the Kfar Naboude front.
He added that opposition fighters also took prisoners from Syrian government troops during the battles.
“Fighters came from the countryside of Aleppo to fight alongside the rebels of Hama and Idlib,” the activist said.
Late last month, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian air power, initiated a massive campaign against a rebel enclave in Hama and the province of Idlib, the last major opposition stronghold in Syria.
The government forces have since seized 16 towns and villages from the rebels, the observatory reported.
The latest escalation in war-torn Syria has displaced thousands of people and raised fears that a truce of almost eight months in the Idlib enclave will be shattered.
Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva expressed concern about the military escalation in north-western Syria and said airstrikes and ground-based attacks continue to take place in various parts of Idlib and Hama governorates.
It said that the situation remains volatile and the possibility of renewed clashes is high, worsening the prospects for some 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire.
The statement warned that military objects had been placed in “close proximity” to civilian residences, causing civilian deaths and injuries and significant damage to infrastructure such as hospitals, mosques, schools and markets.
“From 8 to 16 May, multiple attacks by pro-government forces were registered, resulting in at least 56 civilians killed – including many women and children – and severe damage to five schools and one hospital,” the UN said.
Earlier, an international rights group accused Syrian intelligence of arbitrarily detaining and harassing people in areas taken over from Syrian rebels and people with whom reconciliation deals have already been reached.
“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad’s rule,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The watchdog said it documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in Daraa, Eastern Ghouta and southern Damascus, which government troops took control of after battles with opposition rebels between February and August 2018.
It added that people who were targeted were former armed and political opposition leaders, media activists, aid workers, defectors as well as family members of activists.
“Most of those detained were apparently never charged. In three cases, intelligence branches apparently arrested people because someone filed a complaint against them,” HRW said.
The group quoted relatives as saying that some of the detained were only released after their families paid a bribe.
HRW called on Russia, a major ally of al-Assad, to use its influence to stop arbitrary detention and harassment in Syria.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of another watchdog, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa there are some 80,000 prisoners still held in Syrian government jails and that 104,000 have died in detention as a result of execution, natural causes and mistreatment.