DAMASCUS, SYRIA (8:15 P.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is slowly but systematically pursuing pincers to break down the jihadist defensive line in northeastern Hama, ultimately looking to drive Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) into the Idlib Governorate.
On Sunday, SAA contingents led by elements of the 4th Mechanized Division renewed attempts to seize the HTS stronghold of Balil. As two head-on assaults over the past 72 hours have proven fruitless, government forces are now trying to envelop the town and force jihadist militants to either face certain death through encirclement or conduct a tactical withdrawal, exposing them to Russian and Syrian warplanes from above.
Heavy clashes are taking place near the imperative town of Zafriyah between HTS and the SAA as the latter tries to put Balil on lockdown through advancing on its eastern flank. If Zafriyah falls into government hands, Balil will be virtually indefensible, a military source embedded with the 4th Division told Al-Masdar News today.
On a different axis in rural Hama, SAA units led by the Qalamoun Shield Division resumed their counter-insurgency operations at Rahjan. On Sunday alone, over 15 sorties were conducted by Russian jets and Syrian choppers on HTS-held positions in and around Rahjan, Umm Maiyal, Shakousyah and Janenah.
Thus far, the SAA has entered Rahjan from its southern entrance although fierce clashes continue as we speak with jihadist combattants still occupying most of the town, considered a priceless buffer for HTS.
The military source stressed that the SAA was expected to advance rapidly in the coming days, utilizing their overwhelming numbers and firepower against HTS and its allies. He added that if the SAA takes control of Balil and Rahjan, HTS will struggle to hold their last stretch of land in northeastern Hama.