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The New Arab

Syrian regime forces' Hama offensive moves towards Khan Sheikhoun

Syrian opposition believe Khan Sheikhoun is in the sights of regime forces [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2017

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A Syrian opposition village hit by a deadly sarin attack appears to be the target of regime forces who are heading northwards from Hama.
A Syrian village hit by a deadly sarin gas attack earlier this month appears to be the target of regime forces, opposition media have said.

Pro-Damascus fighters are pushing deeper into Hama province and towards Khan Sheikhoun, which lies just a short distance away from Halfaya, the last town taken by regime militias.

Syrian regime media have reported a series of victories by the army and its militia allies in northern Hama, where Damascus have turned back a surprise rebel offensive.

Syrian regime forces said they had captured Halfaya and surrounding villages on the northern edge of Hama and made further progress elsewhere in the province.

"We gained control of Halfaya and several hills in the area," a military source told Reuters. "The army will of course continue its fight."

Opposition media have reported hundreds of bomb, rocket and missiles striking Halfaya during the offensive, which is one sign of how important capturing this village is to the regime.

Pro-Damascus media believe the next target of militias is a town on the Idlib border - the only province fully contolled by the rebels.

Khan Sheikhoun is one of the first towns over the provincial border.

Khan Sheikoun saw a horrifying sarin gas attack on 4 April and left over a hundred civilians dead, leading to retaliatory US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase which was said to be responsible for the attack.

Most of the world has no doubt that the chemical massacre on Khan Sheikoun was carried out by the Syrian regime.

Some in the opposition believe the latest regime thrust in central Syria - made up of mostly Iranian-backed militias according to the army - is aimed at taking the village that is still in mourning.
[click to enlarge]

Zamn al-Wasl earlier this week said that a UK Labour MP had told the pro-opposition website Iran has ordered its loyalist militias launch an offensive on Khan Sheikhoun to "destroy evidence".

"The Iranian orders stressed the need to burn everything in the city, and do everything possible to gain control of the city where the massacre took place," the source told Zamn al-Wasl this week.

The source added that the offensive "perhaps indicates Iran's involvement in it as well", the British politician allegedly told the Syrian website. We have approached the editors for clarification on the story but have so far received no response.
The Iranian orders stressed the need to burn everything in the city, and do everything possible to gain control.

- UK MP to Zamn al-Wasl

The regime and Russia have launched other devastating air raids on Idlib province over the past few days, including an attack on a hospital, which lies just a short distance from Khan Sheikoun. 

Turkish state media have also reported scores of Khan Sheikhoun residents fleeing their homes for refugee camps close to the border with Turkey. 

The recent bombing - like other air campaigns in the war - appears aimed at spreading fear in the opposition province and force the Syrian population to leave their homes for neighbouring countries.

So far, half the Syrian population have been made homeless and over 5 million registered refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun appeared to have little or no military objective other than to spread terror.

Damascus and Moscow have unsurprisingly denied they were responsible for the sarin attack while Moscow has used its veto to block UN Security Council action after the massacre.

Ultimately, they have done everything possible to deny an independent investigation into the attack.

But the military campaign towards Khan Sheikhoun continues, with unimaginable fire power used on the opposition towns and villages standing in the way of regime forces.

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