Syrian government forces launched an offensive Thursday in the central province of Homs under the cover of Russian air strikes in an attempt to clear the central region of militants and open the highway between Syria's third and fourth largest cities, a military official and activists said. Hama is under government control but the highway connecting Hama and Homs is largely controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups. A military source in Syria said the Homs operation was "linked strategically" to regime operations in neighboring Hama province in recent days. "The operation will continue until it reaches its goal of securing northern Homs and severing contacts between militants in Hama and militants in Homs," the source said. [AFP, AP, 10/15/2015]
Now and then I am asked if I had predicted, way back in March 2011 when violence in Syria began, that within a few years a quarter-million people would be dead, half the population homeless and hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians terrorized, traumatized, tortured and starved. The companion question, more often than not, is if I had forecast the failure of the West to offer any protection at all to Syrian civilians subjected to a systematic campaign of mass homicide. Having first been exposed to Syria as a teenage exchange student, I was expected by questioners to know something about the place. And as a State Department officer, I was assumed to know something about my government.
ISIS militants battled rival insurgent groups on Wednesday north of the city of Aleppo, where officials say the Syrian army is preparing an offensive of its own backed by Iranian soldiers and Russian jets. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the road used by Aleppo residents heading north to the Turkish border remained closed on Wednesday. "There are mobilizations by the regime in most parts of Aleppo, particularly in Bashkoy," said Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group. Iran has sent thousands of additional troops into Syria in recent days to bolster one offensive currently underway in Hama province and in preparation for another in the Aleppo area, two senior regional officials said. Supported by two weeks of airstrikes, the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting insurgents in northern Hama province and neighboring Idlib and Latakia provinces, trying to reverse rebel gains over the summer that threatened the coastal heartlands of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. [Reuters, 10/14/2015]