At least 27 Syrian troops were killed and three wounded in two attacks on Thursday by al-Qaida-affiliated fighters in the central Syrian province of Hama, according to jihadi sources.
The two surprise attacks took place against Syrian military positions near the village of Atshan in the northern part of Hama, al-Bayaan, an Arabic website dedicated to jihadi news in Syria, reported.
The website also published a statement by a jihadi coalition that has launched an offensive against Syrian regime forces in parts of Hama and the nearby northwestern province of Idlib.
"This blessed operation resulted in killing and wounding more than 30 soldiers and officers from the [Syrian] army … an ammunition depot unit was destroyed, and the army retreated from the checkpoints near the location of the raid, due to the fear that struck them," the statement said.
Several pro-rebel media outlets reported on the attacks as well, but attributed them to rebel forces that are also active in the region.
Jihadists or rebels?
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has researchers on the ground, told VOA that it couldn't confirm whether the jihadists or rebels were behind Thursday's attacks.
"The ongoing battle in northern Hama is a complicated one," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory. "Rebel groups and radical jihadists are fighting regime troops separately but simultaneously."
He added that oftentimes during Syria's civil war — which has been raging since 2011 — Syrian rebels and terrorist groups would take credit for the same attack against Syrian regime forces.
A media activist in Hama said that jihadist militants were trying to take advantage of the new rebel advances on several villages in the area.
"The regime is under enormous pressure in the areas along the border between Hama and Idlib provinces. That's why radical groups are pressing forward in the same areas," the activist, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, told VOA.
Hama province has largely been under the control of the Syrian regime, with parts of it briefly captured by rebel groups and the Islamic State (IS) militants during different stages of the Syrian war.
The northern part of Hama came under intensive strikes after several rebel groups launched an offensive against regime forces last week in an apparent attempt to shift Syrian government troops and their allied forces from embattled Idlib, which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a powerful Islamist group that was once al-Qaida's Syria branch, controls a lot of territory in Idlib. However, several small yet significant jihadist groups have broken away from HTS, while remaining loyal to al-Qaida.
Last October, these jihadist forces established a "command center" to coordinate attacks against Syrian troops and allied Russian forces in many parts of northwestern Syria.
The move came after Russia and Turkey reached an agreement in September 2018 that required Turkey to remove jihadist militants from Idlib while Russia would stop the Syrian regime from carrying out attacks on the province.
So far, both sides have failed to fully implement points of the agreement to end the violence in Idlib and neighboring provinces.