Rebels seize towns in central Syria
By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels have captured at least six towns in the central province of Hama, activists say, in an operation aimed at putting pressure on President Bashar al-Assad from the north as insurgents close in on the capital from its southern suburbs.
The rebel gains came as the United Nations on Wednesday launched what it said was its "largest short-term humanitarian appeal ever", for $1.5 billion to help millions of Syrians suffering a "dramatically deteriorating" humanitarian situation.
"The violence in Syria is raging across the country and there are nearly no more safe areas where people can flee and find safety," Radhouane Nouicer, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told a news briefing in Geneva.
The Syrian opposition has scored significant military and diplomatic gains in recent weeks, capturing several army installations across Syria and securing formal recognition from Western and Arab states for its new coalition.
The capture of large parts of Hama province could now give the rebels effective control of a stretch of territory from the northern Turkish border 180 km (110 miles) to the north.
Qassem Saadeddine, a member of the rebel military command, said most of the rural western part of Hama province, which stretches to the foothills of the mountains which are home to Assad's minority Alawite community, was under the control of the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels.
Saadeddine announced the rebel offensive in Hama on Sunday. Assad's opponents already hold much of the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, and are fighting to advance from the southern Damascus suburbs towards the heart of the capital.
"The battle is ongoing. We have freed many areas (of Hama) and we are studying plans to liberate more," Saadeddine told Reuters by Skype from inside Syria. "Three-quarters of western rural Hama is under our control." Continued...