Regime-held hospital comes under fire from Syrian rebels
The Islamist factions in the opposition Jaish al-Fateh ["Army of Conquest"] coalition have launched a suicide attack against the last regime-held outpost in northern Syria's Jisr al-Shughur on Sunday.
The suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at the entrance to the town's National Hospital. The hospital is the last remaining regime stronghold in the town, which was overrun by the opposition coalition last month.
Opposition groups broadcast photos and recordings showing a huge explosion and plumes of smoke coming from the hospital, where 250 regime soldiers and civilians have been trapped for two weeks following clashes between opposition groups and regime forces holed up in the complex.
|The army will soon reach those heroes trapped in Jisr al-Shughur, but the battle will not end there.
- Bashar al-Assad
The battle of Jisr al-Shughur hospital has taken on epic proportions almost two weeks after the armed Syrian opposition took control of the city, and five days after President Bashar al-Assad pledged to break the siege.
Assad promises decisive action
Assad seemed confident the siege on the hospital would be lifted.
"The army will soon reach those heroes trapped in Jisr al-Shughur, but the battle will not end there." he said in Damascus recently.
The regime is making military preparations, deploying fighters equipped with heavy weaponry from areas in the northern Hama and southern Idlib countryside. The regime reinforcements are less than two kilometres from the besieged hospital.
Al-Araby al-Jadeed spoke to General Ahmad Berri, the Free Syrian Army's deputy chief of staff. "The Jisr al-Shughur hospital consists of six buildings, of which the three underground structures are the most important and highly fortified," he said.
"These buildings are now used as the headquarters of the high command, where the governor of Idlib, Major-General Akram Makhloud, four senior security leaders, and many others - including Russian and Iranian advisers - are present."
Berri said opposition forces' initial plan was to convince the regime to release opposition prisoners in return for lifting the siege on the hospital, but when negotiations failed, the opposition moved to "Plan B" - to bomb and then raid the hospital.
General Ahmad Rahhal of the FSA told al-Araby that Assad's administration was desperate to rescue the troops trapped in Idlib.
"They are extremely valuable and the regime does not want them to be killed by the rebels," he said.
|These buildings are now used as the headquarters of the high command.
- General Ahmad Berri, FSA
"The governor of Idlib, senior security leaders, a high-ranking Russian officer, an Iranian officer, and Colonel Suhail al-Hassan, better known as al-Nimr ["The Tiger"], are inside the hospital.
"In addition, cash from Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur's banks are in their possession."
A well-fortified position
Al-Araby also spoke to a fighter taking part in the battles in Idlib. "The hospital contains large quantities of weapons and ammunition," he said. "It is surrounded by barriers and fortifications equipped with machine guns. In addition, snipers are deployed on various buildings of the hospital complex."
The fighter belongs to an Islamist faction he did not wish to name. "The hospital of Jisr al-Shughur, where regime forces are still stationed after the city was liberated, is surrounded by mujahideen and their fortifications," he added.
"The sheer size of the well-fortified building and the regime air force, which carried out dozens of airstrikes - which have not stopped since the siege of the hospital - in addition to land operations from their remaining bases in Idlib and Hama, have delayed the storming of the hospital so far."
On Sunday, opposition forces were able to advance and enter a building in the hospital complex.
The National Hospital in Jisr al-Shughur is the only government hospital in the city. It was refurbished into a military barracks by Assad's troops at the start of the uprising.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.