BEIRUT - Syrian rebels have launched an operation to take control of the central province of Hama to try to link the northern part of the country under their control to the center, a senior commander said on Sunday.
Qassem Saadeddine, a member of the newly established military command, said that orders have been given to fighters to surround and attack checkpoints across the province. He said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad at these checkpoints were given 48 hours' ultimatum to surrender or face death.
"When we liberate the countryside of Hama province ... then we will have the area between Aleppo and Hama liberated and open for us," he told Reuters.
Rebels in Hama said that clashes in the town of Helfaya earlier on Sunday marked the beginning of the operation. They attacked army checkpoints outside the town. Syrian government forces used artillery and fighter jets in responding and killed at least 25 people.