So where exactly are these air-strikes going??

So where exactly are these air-strikes going??

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Syrian troops launching ground offensive backed by Russian airstrikes !!

Ground troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad have launched a major offensive in central Syria backed by Russian airstrikes in an escalation in Moscow’s week-long campaign, which has so far been restricted to bombing runs to soften up rebel positions near major loyalist strongholds.

Russian warships also fired missiles into Syria from the Caspian Sea for the first time. The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said four warships launched 26 rockets at Islamic State targets. The missiles would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 900 miles.

Syrian activists said Russian fighter jets bombed a series of towns held by the opposition in the countryside of Hama, in concert with a push by regime troops and armoured vehicles and the deployment of Russian helicopters, in what was described as the fiercest combat in months.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with wide contacts inside Syria, said Russian fighter jets had launched at least 37 strikes on Wednesday. The SOHR said the Russians bombed targets in the province of Idlib, most of which is held by a coalition of rebels known as Jaysh al-Fateh, which includes the al-Qaida wing in Syria.

The Syrian push on the ground is the first time President Assad’s forces have coordinated with the Russian airforce in an attempt to seize lost territory from opposition forces, ushering in some of the fiercest fighting in months in the civil war, which has now lasted four and a half years and killed more than a quarter of a million people.

The assault mirrors the US strategy in northern Syria, where coalition planes bombed Isis positions to pave the way for their allies on the ground to advance against the militants. It also poses the question of how much territory the regime’s army, exhausted and depleted by the conflict, can seize from the rebels.

Most of the fighting appeared to be concentrated in Hama, a central province with a majority Sunni capital that has remained in the hands of the regime since the start of the war. It is key to Assad’s strategy of cementing control over major population centres in a strip of territory from Latakia in the north, through to Homs, Hama and Damascus.

Rebels recently attempted to wrest control of the strategic al-Ghab plain in Hama’s countryside, drawing closer to Assad’s coastal strongholds, and the Russian strategy seems primarily aimed at securing this territory from further incursions.

Jaysh al-Fateh conquered most of Idlib in a spring offensive, forcing the regime to abandon the province. Russian airstrikes have repeatedly targeted the province over the past week, though there is no known Isis presence in the area.

The SOHR said Russian planes also bombed targets on the outskirts of the historic city of Palmyra, which was seized by Isis in May, and the town of Qaryatain, which was also seized by the militants this summer and whose Christian residents have either been taken hostage or fled. Syrian state TV said airstrikes also hit Isis positions in northern Aleppo.

It is unclear if the Assad regime will be able to score major ground advances against the rebels following years of vicious warfare that has sapped his armed forces, and amid widespread dereliction of duty among its conscripts, while facing rebels who are united by their anger at the Russian intervention.

“Russia is primarily targeting opposition fighters, and this could end any future peace process in Syria and strengthen the role of Islamic State and the extreme factions that do not want peace, whether they support or oppose the regime,” said the SOHR’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman.

The latest airstrikes and ground assault come amid heightened tensions between Russia and Nato, after Russian fighter planes penetrated Turkish airspace over the weekend, sparking protests and condemnation from the alliance with pledges to respond to future incursions.

The Russian ministry of defence said it was continuing to consult with Turkey to ensure there would be no repetition of the incident.

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