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

  • North Korea denies torturing Otto Warmbier during detention

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Friday denied it cruelly treated or tortured an American student who was detained for more than year and died days after being released in a coma. The comments published by the official Korean Central News Agency were North Korea’s first reaction to Otto Warmbier’s death in a U.S. Source
  • Toronto-born son of Russian spies wins fight to regain Canadian citizenship

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA - The Toronto-born son of Russian spies has won a court battle to regain his Canadian citizenship after it was revoked by Ottawa. The long-awaited Federal Court of Appeal decision in Alexander Vavilov's favour is the latest twist in an intriguing espionage saga that spans continents and cultures. Source
  • Officials to discuss condition of officer stabbed at Flint airport

    World News CTV News
    FLINT, Mich. - The Canadian man charged with stabbing a police officer at the Flint airport in a possible act of terrorism was a part-time caretaker at the Montreal apartment building where he lived and had once studied to sell insurance, a landlord and an insurance company spokesman said. Source
  • After saga, Trump admits there's no recordings of Comey talks

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump has declared that he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey. His admission Thursday ended a month-long guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in another controversy. Source
  • War in Afghanistan will only end when NATO leaves, Taliban leader says

    World News CTV News
    KABUL - The leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that a planned U.S. troop surge will not end the protracted war in the country and vowed to fight on until a full withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. Source
  • Car bomb in southwest Pakistan leaves at least 11 dead

    World News CBC News
    A powerful car bombing near the office of the provincial police chief in southwestern Pakistan on Friday killed 11 people and wounded 20, officials said. The explosion near the police chief's office in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, was powerful enough that it was heard across the city, shattering windows of nearby buildings, said police spokesman Shahzada Farhat. Source
  • Severed toe used in famous Yukon cocktail returned with an apology

    Canada News CTV News
    DAWSON CITY, Yukon - A mummified human toe that is the key ingredient in a strange drinking ritual in Dawson City is back where it belongs. RCMP in the Yukon city say the shrivelled, brown toe that was stolen last weekend has been returned to its rightful owner. Source
  • Drink up! Human toe used in cocktail returned to Yukon bar after theft

    Canada News CBC News
    A thief who made off with a human toe that is used in an notorious cocktail served by a Dawson City bar has mailed the toe back to its owners, Yukon RCMP say. Staff at the Downtown Hotel reported the theft last Sunday, saying someone had made off with one of the bar's mummified toes. Source
  • Financier of Marawi invasion killed, Philippine officials say

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines - A Malaysian militant who helped lead and finance the siege of a southern Philippine city is believed to have been killed as the local jihadis aligned with the Islamic State group become increasingly constricted after a month of fighting, the military chief said Friday. Source
  • Friend of South Korean president handed prison sentence in corruption case

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - A South Korean court on Friday sentenced a longtime friend of ousted President Park Geun-hye to three years in prison for using her presidential ties to unlawfully get her daughter into a prestigious Seoul university. Source