Syrian regime recaptures more villages as rebels pull back

The Russian-backed Syrian regime has reclaimed 16 villages from rebels near Hama city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, the opposition says the regime refuses to discuss transition at the Geneva talks.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

The regime has recaptured 75 percent of the territory it lost in the north of Hama province.

Russian-backed Syrian regime forces have recaptured 16 villages lost to insurgents last week near the city of Hama, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Friday.

"The regime has recaptured 75 percent of the territory it lost in the north of Hama province," said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the war monitor.

Syrian regime forces have launched counterattacks in the area that is of critical importance to regime leader Bashar al Assad.

An array of factions, including an alliance headed by a former Al Qaeda affiliate, launched an assault on regime positions in Hama province on March 21, seizing several strategic areas.

But after a string of losses, the regime sent significant reinforcements to the region, the Observatory said, and has been able to reverse most of its losses, backed by heavy air strikes from ally Russia.

The factions involved in the assault still hold a handful of newly gained areas, including the town of Suran, which has changed hands several times since the Syrian war began in 2011.

Strategic importance of Hama

Hama province has strategic importance as it separates opposition forces in the northwestern province of Idlib from Damascus to the south and from the regime's coastal heartlands to the west.

SOHR said the fighting had killed dozens on both sides, but was unable to give a precise toll.

Syria's opposition has accused the regime of using "toxic substances" in its battle to repel the assault.

On Thursday, air strikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.

TRT World's Middle East correspondent Ediz Tiyansan spoke to Jan Egeland, the UN Adviser on Humanitarian Access in Syria, about the human rights situation and relief efforts in Syria.

Raqqa offensive to stretch

A senior commander of the US-backed YPG militia has said that the offensive to capture the Syrian city of Raqqa from Daesh will last a number of months. 

Raqqa is the de facto capital of Daesh in Syria and a stronghold of the terror group.

Rojda Felat, one of around 1,000 women taking part in the campaign, said that the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) operations to seize Taqba dam had been complicated by Daesh booby traps and threats to destroy it, and alternative plans had been drawn up to take it.

Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River is only 40 kilometres from Raqqa, putting it on the front line in the battle to capture the city.

The dam is now partly controlled by the SDF. Felat said the dam should be captured in the next few days.

The SDF is dominated by the YPG, the armed wing of the PYD – the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US, and the EU.

Turkey has been incensed by US support for the YPG.

On Thursday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for supporting "right and legitimate" actors in the fight against Daesh, during a meeting in Ankara with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. 

Turkey reminded the US that the latter's support for the YPG "is a significant risk."

UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura and Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Nasr al Hariri attend a round of negotiations, during the intra-Syria talks in Geneva. (Reuters)

Regime and Opposition lock horns in Geneva

The Syria conflict entered its seventh year in March. The trail of death, destruction and displacement has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and created the world's worst refugee crises since WWII.

In Geneva, where regime and opposition representatives are holding direct talks, chances of reaching a political solution appear slim, as opposition and regime delegates struggle over the agenda and the US is saying it no longer wants Bashar al Assad to step down.

Assad's regime wants to focus on counter-terrorism measures while the opposition is pressing for elections.

Syria's opposition said on Friday that Assad's "terrorist regime" had refused to discuss political transition during a round of UN-led talks, reiterating that he was a war criminal who must step down in the name of peace.

"They are solely discussing their empty rhetoric about countering terrorism, although they attracted terrorism to region, they used all kinds of weapons, and they used siege and chemical weapons against the people," chief opposition negotiator Nasr al Hariri said.

Hariri was speaking after meeting UN envoy Staffan de Mistura for the last time during an eight-day round of UN-mediated talks in Geneva.

TRTWorld and agencies