Grand ground assault on at least four Syrian opposition held areas in the West, was carried out by Syrian president Bashar al Assad’s regime and allied militias. Aided and backed by a massive wave of Russian air strikes, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday.
Russian air strikes pounded opposition held area in the province of Hama in the West, and nearby areas in the neighbouring province of Idlib on Wednesday, SOHR said. And according to Al Jazeera, dozens were killed in separate Russian air strikes in the north, in Aleppo on Wednesday and Tuesday. Russian air strikes concentrated on rebel held neighbourhood of Rashedeen, on the outskirts of Aleppo.
This is the first mass coordinated mission between the Syrian regime, allied parties including Lebanese Shiite militias Hezbollah, and the Russian Air Force since the beginning of the official Russian intervention in Syria on September 30.
Most of Idlib province is held by al Qaeda's Syria wing Al Nusra Front and other factions and that has frequently made gains against the Syrian regime.
Heavy surface-to-surface missile bombardments were used in the ground operations on Wednesday, SOHR’s head Rami Abdulrahman said.
"There is no information yet of any (government) advances on the ground, but the air strikes have hit vehicles and insurgent bases," Abdulrahman said.
Syrian state media, pro-government channels, and Hezbollah media outlets did not mention Wednesday’s grand offense against the Syrian opposition.
Russia and Iran have been backing the Syrian regime since the beginning of the four-year war in Syria which claimed more than 250,000 Syrians, whilst, half of the country’s population are displaced internally or in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and in Europe, where more than 350,000 Syrians have claimed asylum.
Russian warplanes destroys weapon depots belonging to US trained opposition
For the second time, Russian air strikes also targeted weapons depots of a US trained opposition group in Syria’s Idlib. Liwa Suqour al Jabal also in Idlib has been targeted last week for the first time.
Commander of the US backed Liwa Suqour al Jabal, confirmed the incident, Hassan Haj Ali told Reuters on Wednesday via internet messaging service. "These were considered the principal depots of the Liwa," he said in an audio recording obtained separately.
Many of Russia's air strikes have been focused on areas where Liwa Suqour al Jabal are stationed in areas of western and northern Syria. The same areas where ISIS has no significant presence.
Liwa Suqour al Jabal is one of the few Syrian rebel groups deemed moderate enough by the United States, and so they received training as part of an ostensibly covert CIA train and equip programme.
Russian intervention’s beginning
On September 30, Russian warplanes started air strikes on rebels' positions in northern and western Syria, though it was announced that the aim for the air strikes is targeting bastions belong to ISIS who control large swaths of eastern part of Syria and western Iraq.
“Russian warplanes carried out further air strikes on the towns of Al Latamneh and Kafr Zita in the northern countryside of Hama” the SOHR said on Tuesday.
According to SOHR, Russia's recent strikes targeted towns already hit last week on Wednesday by the Russian Air Force, which are Kafr Zita, Kafr Nabudah, Al Sayyad and the village of Al Lataminah in Hama province and the towns of Khan Shaykhun and Alhbit in Idlib.
Abdulrahman said there’s no signs of Russian ground presence yet. But Russian parliament’s top defence lawmaker Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov announced that “volunteers” from the Russian Federation will possibly join the Syrian war, alongside Bashar al Assad regime to fight against opposition forces.
Komoyedov said, “it is likely that groups of Russian volunteers will appear in the ranks of the Syrian army as combat participants,” speaking to the Russian Interfax-AVN news agency on Monday.
International community has largely condemned the Russian intervention in Syria. UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said that "Russia’s recent military engagement in Syria is aiding regime leader Bashar al Assad rather than hindering the ISIS militant group."
"British intelligence services observed that only one out of 20 Russian air strikes in Syria have actually targeted ISIS militants, while the rest were targeted at ISIS-free areas, killing civilians and factions fighting Assad’s regime," Fallon said on Saturday in an interview with the Sun.
“We’re analyzing where the strikes are going every morning,” he said. “The vast majority are not against ISIS at all."
“Our evidence indicates they are dropping unguided munitions in civilian areas, killing civilians, and they are dropping them against the Free Syrian forces fighting Assad.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has called the Russian military intervention in Syria a "terrible mistake."
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Cameron warned the Russian intervention in support of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad would only destabilize the region even more.
"They are backing the butcher Assad, which is a terrible mistake for them and for the world. It's going to make the region more unstable," Cameron said during an annual conference of his Conservative Party in the city of Manchester.
He also noted that most Russian air strikes in Syria have so far targeted territories held by opposition forces and not ISIS militants.
Russia violating Turkish airspace
Russia has added another threatening dimension in its Syrian drama, reportedly violating the Turkish airspace near the Syrian border with its fighter jets on Saturday.
In addition, Russian Parliament’s top defence lawmaker Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov on Monday announced that “volunteers” from the Russian Federation will possibly join the Syrian war on the side of Bashar al Assad's regime to fight against opposition forces, increasing more tension with Turkey and NATO alliance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticized the recent Russian military interventions transpiring mostly in northern Syrian territories near the Turkish border to bolster Assad's regime, warning that “Russia will lose a lot if it loses Turkey.”
Turkish president made his remarks on Tuesday in Brussels, warning Russia that the country puts its formidable relations with Turkey in danger with its Syrian policy, at a joint press conference following a meeting with Belgian's Prime Minister Charles Michel.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Tuesday that Russia has not officially informed alliance "any real explanation" over its violations of Turkish airspace, adding "for NATO, the violation of Turkish airspace by Russia does not look like an accident."
Stoltenberg made the announcement at a press conference held in Brussels before journalists.
"I will not speculate on the motives but this does not look like an accident... and we have two of them," Jens Stoltenberg told the news conference.
Russia's NATO envoy commented on the press saying that the military alliance was using the “accidental incursion” of a Russian plane into Turkish airspace to distort the aims of Moscow's air campaign in Syria, according to the TASS news agency.
Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the Russian side have been warned on Tuesday of the repeated violation of the Turkish airspace.