- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

Iran has sent hundreds of troops to Syria over the last 10 days that will soon join government forces and Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive accompanied by Russian airstrikes, two Lebanese sources familiar with the matter said.

“The (Russian) airstrikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” one of the sources told Reuters.

The sources said it is possible the ground operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside regions and that operations would be aimed at recapturing territory lost by embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to rebels.

If true, the operations point to an emerging military alliance between Russia and Mr. Assad’s other main allies — Iran and Hezbollah.

So far, Iranian military support for Mr. Assad’s regime has mostly come in the form of military advisers and the mobilization of Shi’ite militia fighters.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has been fighting alongside the Syrian army since early in the conflict.

“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisors … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” the second source told Reuters. Iraqis would also take part in the operation, the source said.

The Russian air force on Wednesday began airstrikes, targeting areas near the cities of Homs and Hamas in the western region of Syria. Moscow had claimed it would conduct strikes against the Islamic State militant group, but the terrorist organization does not operate in the bombed region, anti-Assad forces do. 

The move drew harsh criticism from the U.S. and other western powers, with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter likening Russia’s move to “pouring gasoline on the fire” in Syria

State John Kerry calling for swift military talks to coordinate efforts.

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