Russian military intervention in Syria continued on Thursday as Russian jets backed Syrian troops and their allies and attacked rebel-held cities. The alliance targeted a strategic area filled with rebels that oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The offensive that began in the early morning is aimed at reclaiming land in western Syria that is critical for Assad’s government to remain in power. Currently, the areas are held by rebel groups allegedly not associated with ISIS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that has been closely monitoring the civil war, said that five civilians and six insurgents were killed in Teir Malla, located about 3 miles north of Homs city. The group also reported that there were heavy airstrikes around Talbiseh and other nearby villages.
Since Russian jets began their airstrikes against rebel fighters over two weeks ago, the Syrian army and its allies – including Iran – have launched several offensives to try and retake insurgent-held territory.
The army operations also include a campaign to recapture rebel-held land in the northwest region of Syria. Officials report that the Syrian army and its Iranian allies are preparing for ground offensives in an area close to the border with Turkey.
Recapturing areas in northern Syria would help reassert Assad’s dominance and control over the major population centers of the west and secure important areas of land linking Damascus to the coast where his minority Alawite sect resides.
The Observatory said there was still heavy fighting taking place. The leader of one rebel group stated that, “There are very heavy airstrikes in [the city of] Homs on the frontlines. There are civilian casualties. The aim is to apply military pressure, and the regime’s intention is to storm the area.” He further claimed that he was unsure of the number of people killed but gave the names of five individuals confirmed dead, including a girl and two women.
Abdul Rahim Duhaik, a teacher in Talbiseh said that, “They want to open up the road from Homs (north) to Hama. There’s no end to the aerial observation and the bombardment. People are busy digging shelters. No one has any intention of leaving. We will die in our land rather than be evicted.”
Responding to the reports of civilian deaths, a Syrian military official said that Russian jets and Syrian forces do not target locations where civilians are present. He accused al Qaeda of conducting a massacre on Thursday so that it could blame the deaths on the Syrian army.