BEIRUT - Syrian rebels have taken over at least six towns in central Hama province as part of an operation aimed at extending their control south towards President Bashar Assad's powerbase in the capital Damascus, a senior commander said on Wednesday.
Qassem Saadeddine, a member of the rebel military command, said most of the rural western section of Hama province, which stretches to the foothills of the mountains which are home to Assads'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 areas," Saadeddine told Reuters by Skype from inside Syria. "Three-quarters of western rural Hama is under our control."
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