BEIRUT, Dec 16 (Reuters) - 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 centre, 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 al-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.