Syria's Assad Presses Offensive, Missile Strikes Raise Escalation Risk

A Sukhoi Su-22 Syrian army plane releases bombs over southern Damascus in the area of Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on April 24, 2018. (Getty)

Beirut - The Syrian army unleashed a massive bombardment against one rebel enclave on Monday and prepared for the withdrawal of insurgents from another as President Bashar al-Assad pushes to crush the rebels’ last besieged strongholds.

However, missile strikes against several government military bases on Sunday - not claimed by any party despite speculation in Israel that its military was responsible - underscored the risks of a wider escalation in the seven-year conflict.

There were more than 140 Syrian army air strikes on the town of Rastan and surrounding villages in the rebel enclave between the cities of Hama and Homs early on Monday, alongside sustained shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Last week a Syrian government minister said the enclave would be the army’s next target after it retook all rebel areas around the capital, a goal it looked closer to achieving with Monday’s expected insurgent pullout from south Damascus.

Later on Monday, Syrian state TV said the army would cease fire for 48-72 hours in the pocket between Homs and Hama - the most populous remaining encircled area in Syria - to allow rebel groups to agree a surrender deal under which they would leave for opposition-held areas in northern Syria.

The ceasefire would be the last deadline before “the military operation begins”, state TV said.

The Observatory said fighting had stopped there by late Monday afternoon.


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