BEIRUT - The Syrian air force bombarded a plain in the northwest of the country overnight, a group monitoring the war said, after insurgents launched an offensive to advance deeper into government-held areas vital to President Bashar Assad.
The insurgents are seeking to drive into the Sahl al-Ghab plain, an area crucial to the defence of the western coastal mountains that are part of the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect as well as lying close to Hama city to the southeast.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict using contacts on the ground, said Syrian warplanes had carried out more than 160 air strikes on the plain and in the nearby Idlib countryside to try to disrupt the insurgents' progress towards key Assad territory.
The insurgents, who have entered at the northern tip of the plain, can use their anti-tank missiles to target Syrian army tank positions, giving them some advantages over flat ground, a diplomat tracking Syria said.
Most of Idlib province was captured earlier this year in a major advance by the insurgent grouping "Army of Conquest" against government forces.
On Tuesday, supporters of the "Army of Conquest", which is involved in the Sahl al-Ghab offensive, said fighters had seized a power station in the area and listed a total of 16 locations captured from government forces in the attack.