DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:40 P.M.) – On Monday, the Syrian Al-Qaeda branch and a couple Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions gathered all available fighters for a major joint counter-offensive in the northeastern countryside of Hama.
Targeting a rural area just north of the M42 Highway that was captured by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in recent weeks, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS/Al-Qaeda) and the FSA’s Jaish Al-Nasr and Central Division managed to retake the towns of Al-Baleel and Umm Turaykiyeh in the afternoon, reportedly using a chemical substance to kick off the offensive.
In the evening hours, jihadist forces also overran the neighboring village of Umm Khazaym. However, a SAA military source told Al-Masdar News moments ago that opposition claims of any further gains were false.
Pictures of the counter-offensive show jihadists gathering for the attack and posing for pictures in the newly captured area. A couple of the photos, published online by the FSA and HTS respectively, even show the exact same fighters, indicating that the groups are operating shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield:
One SAA soldier was captured alive (depicted above) during the counter-offensive but the SAA military source stressed that the government forces had not lost any troops, sustaining only a few flesh wounds to forwards units that were ordered to conduct a tactical retreat over fears of a chemical attack.
With darkness falling over Hama, the Russian Air Force began a wave of airstrikes on the newly captured villages in order to pave the way for a SAA counter-offensive.
Clashes continue as we speak with the SAA trying to retake the lost turf overnight.