With Russian help, Syrian army pushes into rebel bastion

BEIRUT -- Backed by relentless Russian airstrikes, Syrian troops and allied militiamen on Wednesday pushed deeper into a major rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Latakia, a day after seizing a key rebel-held town in the strategic region overlooking the coast, the government and opposition activists said.

See Full Article

The insurgents in the opposition-held area near the Turkish border were collapsing after the town of Salma fell to government loyalists late Tuesday. Salma's fall marked one of the most significant military victories by the Syrian military since Russia began airstrikes in the country last September to shore up President Bashar Assad's forces.

On Wednesday, government troops seized the villages of Mrouniyah and Marj Kawkah near Salma as they continued their advances in the region, aided by immense Russian firepower.

Salma, part of mountainous chains near the border with Turkey known as Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkmen, has been under rebel control for the past three years.

The town, where members of Assad's Alawite minority sect once co-existed with majority Sunni Muslims, overlooks the largely Alawite coast and is about 12 kilometres (seven miles) away from the Turkish border. Turkey is a key supporter of insurgents in the area, which is mostly inhabited by Syrian Turkmen, an ethnic minority with close ties to Turkey.

"Whoever controls Salma gains control all those surrounding areas which it overlooks," said Zakariya Ahmad, an opposition activist in the nearby Idlib province.

He said the town fell after 93 days of fighting and daily barrel bombs and airstrikes. He said activists in the region had reported 92 airstrikes believed to be Russian on Salma in the last 24 hours before it was fully seized by government troops.

"It was hell on earth," he said.

Salma's capture further improves Assad's position ahead of planned peace talks with the opposition in Geneva scheduled for January 25, and came as high-level U.S., Russian, U.N. and other diplomats met behind closed doors in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss efforts to those talks.

The recapture of Salma is the latest in a string of military achievements by the government recently, supported by Russian air power and Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah group.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, said Russia was trying to send a powerful message to Turkey following the downing of their plane in November in the area, showing that they can exact revenge.

"Salma is really a major breakthrough, not just for the Syrian army, for Russia as well," he said, adding that losing the town was a significant loss for the opposition.

"The rebels thought they could turn it into a spearhead to deal a mortal blow against the regime" into its Alawite heartland, he added.

Russia began conducting airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30 against the Islamic State group and "other terrorists," but much of the Russian airstrikes have targeted areas where the IS has no presence.

Jabal al-Akrad, where Wednesday's fighting was focus, is also close to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, which has also been frequently targeted by Russian warplanes since Moscow launched its air campaign. It is controlled by a consortium of mainstream and extremist insurgent groups including the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the Nusra Front.

Latakia province includes key strongholds of Assad and the Alawite religious minority.

Sharif Shehadeh, a Syrian member of parliament, said the capture of Salma "effectively brings the entire coastal area under Syrian army control."

He said the combination of Syrian ground troops and Russian air cover was proving extremely effective and predicted "big changes" that would change the battlefield by mid-year.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Death toll in Egypt attack on Christians rises to 29

    World News CTV News
    CAIRO -- The death toll in the attack by gunmen on a bus transporting Christians to a monastery south of Cairo rose to 29, Egyptian authorities said Saturday. The Egyptian Cabinet said in a news release that 13 victims of Friday's attack remained hospitalized in Cairo and the southern province of Minya where the attack took place. Source
  • U.K. lowers terror threat level to 'severe' as more arrested

    World News CTV News
    MANCHESTER, England -- Britain reduced its terrorism threat level a notch, from "critical" to "severe," as authorities said major progress has been made in unravelling the plot behind the Manchester bombing. Prime Minister Theresa May said "a significant amount of police activity" and several arrests had led to the level being lowered. Source
  • ISIS claims responsibility for deadly shooting on Coptic Christians in Egypt

    World News CBC News
    The group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said on Saturday that its fighters were responsible for a shooting that killed dozens of Egyptian Christians on Friday, according to a statement from the group. Source
  • U.S. backs call for fight against protectionism in G7 communique

    World News CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to include a pledge to fight trade protectionism in a final communique due to be released later on Saturday at the end of a summit of Group of Seven leaders, a G7 source said. Source
  • N.S. party leaders stick to familiar scripts in campaign's final days

    Canada News CBC News
    The final Friday of this provincial election campaign was as illustrative as any of what each party leader wants voters thinking about as they prepare to cast their ballots. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil started his morning at the office of a company that specializes in virtual reality flight simulation. Source
  • 11 arrests total in Manchester bomb investigation

    World News CBC News
    Police arrested two more suspects Saturday over the deadly Manchester concert bombing, as Britons began a sunny holiday long weekend under heightened security. Greater Manchester Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were detained early Saturday in the northwest England city on suspicion of terrorism offences. Source
  • 5 things to watch for in today's Conservative leadership result

    Canada News CBC News
    After a year of campaigning, it's mostly over but the counting for the 13 candidates in the Conservative leadership race.Listen to CBC Radio's The House: Conservatives make their choiceFollow CBC's live coverage of the Conservative leadership conventionConservative leadership candidates lay out vision for party in final speechesAs the final few votes are cast in person and the tabulation machines set to work Saturday, here's what to watch for when the results are revealed at 5 p.m. Source
  • Mosul siege extends ISIS fight in Iraq, puts civilians at risk

    World News CTV News
    MOSUL, Iraq -- Iraqi forces are steadily closing in on the remaining pockets of territory held by the Islamic State group in Mosul, inching toward a victory that U.S.-led coalition officials say is "only a matter of time. Source
  • Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski dies

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, who helped topple economic barriers between the Soviet Union, China and the West as President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, died Friday. He was 89. His death was announced on social media Friday night by his daughter, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. Source
  • Man hurling racial slurs kills 2, injures 1 on Portland train: police

    World News CTV News
    PORTLAND, Ore. -- Two people died Friday and another was hurt in a stabbing on a Portland light-rail train after a man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, one of whom was wearing a hijab, police said. Source