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Syria launches ground offensive after Russian bombardment

Syrian army chief announces push into rebel-held areas after Russian airstrikes, but videos suggest fierce resistance in Hama province
Syrian rebels fought back in Hama with US-made TOW missiles (screengrab)

Syria's army has announced the start of a "vast offensive" by ground forces in the wake of Russian airstrikes targeting rebel-held areas.

The army chief of staff, General Ali Abdullah Ayoub, on Thursday announced the push into rebel areas "to defeat the terrorist groups" and restore army control.

"Today, the Syrian Arab armed forces began a wide-ranging attack with the aim of eliminating the terrorists groups and liberating the areas and towns that suffered from their scourge and crimes."

He did not specify where the operation would take place, but said Russian airstrikes had helped "weaken the fighting capabilities of Daesh and other terrorist groups", using an Arabic term for the Islamic State group.

Quoted by Syrian state television, Ayoub said Russia had helped Syria's armed forces "maintain the military initiative".

The announcement came a day after Syrian forces launched a ground assault on the Sahl al-Ghab plain in Hama, which borders the government-held province of Latakia.

Moscow continued its air assault on Thursday in Sahl al-Ghab, with one witness telling the AFP news agency that three villages had been hit.

According to the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, which is close to the government, the army captured Latmeen and at least 10 other villages.

"These operations occurred with support from Syrian and Russian planes, and resulted in retaking control," the newspaper reported.

Videos uploaded to Youtube yesterday however suggested Syrian forces had met fierce resistance in their campaign to retake areas of Hama. More than a dozen videos dated 7 October showed Syrian armour, artillery pieces and troops being destroyed by anti-tank fire. 

Many of the weapons being used by the rebels were US-made TOW missiles, while some groups were armed with Russian-made anti-tank missiles.

Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday reported that rebels had shot down a helicopter near the village of Kafr Nabouda in northern Hama. It was unclear if the aircraft was Syrian or Russian. 

Middle East Eye could not confirm the veracity of the claims.

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