On December 9, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) launched a surprise attack against Hayat Tahrir al-ham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) from its positions in northern Hama and captured the villages of Umm Khazem and Balil in southern Idlib, according to pro-government sources.
Five fighters of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) were captured by the Syrian soldiers during the clashes in the two villages, according to reports.
The SAA lost all of its positions in the southern Idlib countryside when HTS and its allies captured the strategic Abu Dali village north of the villages of Umm Kazem and Balil on October 8.
Meanwhile, Syrian pro-government and oppositions sources reported that Russian warplanes conducted more than 80 airstrike at HTS positions in northern Hama, southern Idlib and southwestern Aleppo in the last 24 hours.
The Russian airstrikes are likely a part of the ongoing preparations of the SAA and its allies to launch a large-scale military operation to capture the Hama-Aleppo highway and all the villages around it. The elite Syrian Tiger Forces will spearhead the attack that will begin in the upcoming weeks, according to pro-government sources.