One bomb struck an insurgent meeting place and weapons storehouse. Another hit the Islamic law court. A third hit a heavy machine gun position, but not just any position — the leader of the largest local insurgent formation was manning a gun there, and was killed.
The people of Talbiseh, a rebel-held village north of Homs in central Syria, have seen many government air raids, but the strikes on Wednesday morning surprised them with their ferocity and their precision.
“Something new is going on,” said Hassan Abu Nouh, an antigovernment activist in Talbiseh who has close ties to the local insurgent force, the Iman bil Allah Brigade.
“They are hitting us like crazy,” Mr. Abu Nouh said of the government’s air campaign. “Maybe no one will be alive to tell the story next week.”
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In Talbiseh and across Syria, insurgent fighters who oppose the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the foreign-led militants of the extremist group called the Islamic State are being pummeled by a new wave of attacks and assassination attempts. The assaults are coming at a crucial moment, as President Obama tries to intensify efforts to defeat the Islamic State extremists.
Mr. Obama has ruled out cooperating with Mr. Assad’s military against the extremists, because of the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on an uprising that started with peaceful protests and grew into civil war. Instead, the United States hopes that insurgent groups it sees as more moderate can, with increased aid, provide the necessary ground forces to fight the extremists in conjunction with American-led airstrikes.
Insurgents of all stripes, except for the Islamic State group, say the Syrian government appears to be stepping up its attacks on them ahead of the threatened American air campaign. Pro-government and antigovernment analysts say Mr. Assad has an interest in eliminating the more moderate rebels, to make sure his forces are the only ones left to benefit on the ground from any weakening of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Mr. Assad has maintained from the start of the conflict that he and his allies are the only force in Syria capable of battling the extremists effectively. But Islamic State activists in Homs said on Wednesday that there had been no recent government airstrikes against the group, adding to opposition suspicions that Mr. Assad prefers to focus on attacking his other opponents while letting the Islamic State’s unchecked brutality argue the case to Syria and the world that his rule is the best alternative.
The Crossroads of Special Operations