Russian and Syrian regime forces have carried out what appears to be their first coordinated operation since the Kremlin’s military mission in the country began last week amid warnings that Moscow’s involvement could lead to a “terrible bloodbath”.
Air strikes carried out in Hama and Idlib provinces concentrating on towns close to the main highway running through the major cities in the west followed by ground attacks missiles targeting four rebel positions in the area, the London based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) stated.
"There is no information yet of any government advances on the ground, but the air strikes have hit vehicles and insurgent bases," said Rami Abdulrahman, the head of SOHR. Opposition sources say that as well as regular regime troops, fighters from the Shabiha, the militia of the Alawite community from which the Syrian elite are drawn, have been building up numbers in Hama and Idlib. There have also been, uncorroborated, reports of increased presence of Iranian and Hezbullah forces in the northern provinces.
Both Russian and Syrian regime officials have said that they are carrying out joint planning and senior Moscow officials have said that its mission will last up to four months. Meanwhile Qatar, with the approval of Saudi Arabia, has been shipping weapons to rebel groups through Turkey. Some commentators have taken an apocalyptic view of what lies ahead.
Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst in Moscow, said: “Right now they are just softening up the opposition. Then will come the ground offensive, it will be us in the air and Syria, Iran and Hezbullah on the ground. It’s going to be a terrible bloodbath, tens of thousands will be killed and the consequences for Europe will be even more refugees.”
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