BEIRUT: Syrian government forces intensified their bombardment of opposition-held areas around Damascus and the central city of Hama, activists reported Monday, as they pushed to erase battlefield advances made by insurgents in March.
"There's been a major escalation north of Hama in the directions of Maardes and Souran," said a local media activist going by the name Obeida Hamawi. He estimated more than 70 bombs and rockets had fallen on the adjoining village and town.
Syrian state media said government forces had reclaimed Maardes midday. Hamawi said local fighters were expecting the government to push for the larger Souran as early as Tuesday.
Syrian rebels and al-Qaida-linked fighters seized the towns in a surprise offensive two weeks ago. They reached within 10 kilometres (six miles) of Hama, Syria's fourth-largest city, before government forces and allied militias stopped the advance.
The Syrian government depends on Shiite fighting forces from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran to fortify its positions. Hamawi said they have been instrumental in the government's Hama counter-offensive, while pro-government Twitter accounts recorded the arrival of Iraqi reinforcements belonging to the Nujaba Movement to the area last week.
Pro-government forces meanwhile pounded areas around the capital and its suburbs, carrying out at least 50 airstrikes on opposition-held zones by midday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Thick smoke clouded the skies in the capital's Qaboun neighbourhood, and its Jisreen and Saqba suburbs, footage from the activist-run Qasioun and Step News Agencies showed. The activist-run Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, reported evacuating a number of wounded residents to hospitals from Hamouriyeh following presumed government or Russian airstrikes on the capital suburb.
At least 16 people were killed in an airstrike on the suburb's main road two weeks ago.