Syrian rebels are said to have captured a strategic town in northern Hama province in a major offensive, rebels said on Tuesday.
The offensive by hardline jihadist, Jund al-Aqsa and the Free Syrian Army brigades on Halfaya, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, threatens a number of nearby towns loyal to the Syrian presidnet, Bashar al Assad.
Halfaya lies near a main road linking coastal areas with the Aleppo-Damascus highway, and a few kilometers from the historic Christian town of Mahrada.
Abu Jaafar, a field commander in the Abna’ al Sham brigade said: “Work started at 7am, and thank God we have been able to gain control over the towns of Halfaya, Al Masasneh and several barricades in the surrounding area. We will continue to work until we reach the Hama military airport, so that we will be able to protect Hama province and to help the Mujahideen in Aleppo.”
A rapid collapse in government defenses allowed the rebels to also take a string of villages including Buwaydah, Zalin and Masassanah, reports the Reuters news agency.
According to a Syrian military source, airstrikes by the army have killed dozens of rebels but would neither confirm nor deny if Halfaya had fallen.
Pro-Assad websites are however reporting that reinforcement troops are being sent to take back control of the area.
The rebel offensive comes after weeks of heavy Russian and Syrian army bombardments of rebel controlled Hama and southern Idlib countryside that rebels sy has claimed dozens of civilian lives.