(Adds Damascus fighting)
BEIRUT, March 24 Russian warplanes are taking
part in air strikes against insurgents to help repel a major
attack on Syrian government-held areas near the city of Hama, a
Syrian military source said on Friday.
State media later on Friday reported that the army had
recaptured all the positions it lost earlier in the week in a
rebel assault in the north of the Jobar district of Damascus.
Rebel groups spearheaded by jihadist insurgents launched the
attack on Tuesday and have captured at least 11 villages and
towns, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a
Britain-based organisation that reports on the war.
It marks the biggest attack by rebels in months. While
President Bashar al-Assad still holds the military upper hand in
the war, the rebel gains have shown the challenge facing the
Syrian army and allied militia as they fight on numerous fronts.
"Air strikes have now started, and there is concentrated
artillery firing against the armed groups and the headquarters
of their leaders and supply lines, paving the way for the
counter-attack," the military source told Reuters. "The Russians
are, of course, participating in these raids."
Rebel groups were focusing their attack on Friday on the
village of Qomhana, some 8 km (5 miles), north of Hama city,
Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said.
An account on the instant-message service Telegram that is
affiliated with the jihadist alliance spearheading the assault,
Tahrir al-Sham, said a suicide attack had been carried out
there. The military source said the army had destroyed two car
bombs that insurgents had tried to drive towards their positions
in Qomhaha, and the attack was thwarted.
The fighting has underscored the bleak prospects for a new
round of U.N.-led peace talks that are underway in Geneva.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by