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Last weekend, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) continued loosing ground in the province of Hama. Government forces, led by the Tiger Forces and the 5th Assault Corps, liberated Halfaya, Al-Batish, Tall Batish, Zilaqiat, Al-Tarabiaa and Hisa, and secured the Mahardeh Power Plant. Government forces advanced in the villages of Buwaida, Masasinah where they were engaged in clashes with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)-led forces.
Pro-militant sources argue that the “opposition” defenses collapsed in northern Hama as a result of a long artillery and air bombing campaign conducted by the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Aerospace Forces.
The militant-held towns of Lataminah and Morek will likely become the next mid-term targets of the ongoing government offensive in northern Hama.
Latamihan is an important logistical hub of HTS and its allies used to resupply militant units operating in the area. In 2004, the town had population over 16,000 people. According to available information, militant military HQs and operation rooms as well as a high number of weapon depots are located in tunnels under the town.
If the Syrian Arab Army and its allies retake Lataminah, they will be shorten frontline and secure their recent gains in northern Hama. The problem is that Lataminah was a constant target of airstrikes in April and in late March. Thus, a notable part of the infrastructure of the town is already damaged. Its infrastructure will be further damaged if clashes erupt in the area.
In turn, Morek is strategically located along the Hama-Aleppo highway. In 2004, the town had population over 14,000 people.
The advance along this highway will allow government troops to outflank militant forces deployed in Lataminah and Kafrzita. If government forces are able to retake Morek, militants in Lataminah will be in a very complicated situation and will likely withdraw from the town like they already did in Halfaya.
The problem is that this operation will draw more resources than the direct advance on Lataminah. So, it will not be possible if ISIS launches some “unexpected” large-scale advance in the countryside of Palmyra or at the Ithriyah-Aleppo highway. The terrorist group has repeatedly did this de-facto assisting “moderate opposition” forces led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
If government forces don’t face an additional military pressure on the other frontlines from some tactical allies of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, they will likely continue to develop the advance in order to secure the whole northern countryside of Hama.