Syrian regime seizes strategic Latakia town with Russian support

Syrian regime seizes strategic Latakia town with Russian support
After hundreds of Russian airstrikes in the area, Syrian regime troops on Tuesday took control of the strategic town of Salma, in the northwestern province of Latakia, state television reported.
3 min read
13 January, 2016
Syrian regime forces gathered in the centre of the town [AFP]

Syrian regime troops and allied militias on Tuesday took full control from rebel groups of the strategic town of Salma, in the northwestern province of Latakia, state television reported.

In a breaking news flash, the channel said the army, backed by the pro-government National Defence Forces militia, had also seized hilltops surrounding the town.

"Regime forces charged the town of Salma in the Jabal al-Akrad region, north of Latakia from four directions before being seizing the town after 140 Russian airstrikes," Salim Omar, a local journalist told The New Arab.

The town's recapture is a major boost for Syria's beleaguered army, which had been mostly locked in a stalemate with rebel factions in the province.

The Syrian regime's campaign in Latakia province is part of its efforts to consolidate control over regime strongholds in the Syrian coast.

Since 2012, Salma had been the main bastion for opposition groups in hilly Latakia, which remains largely controlled by government forces.

Opposition forces in Latakia province - including the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front - are largely based in the northern and northeastern areas of Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkman regions.

Regime forces have fought fierce battles in recent months to retake those areas with help from Iran-backed Hizballah fighters and from Russian air strikes.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russia conducted more than 120 air strikes over 48 hours in support of the army's Salma offensive.

Syrian troops have since September 30 been backed by an intense air campaign by Russia, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia claims it is in Syria to fight Islamic State (IS) militants, but most of its strikes have targeted rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, Russian strikes killed 35 civilians in the provinces of Idlib, in Syria's northwest, and Aleppo, in the north, the Observatory said.

Twenty-one civilians were killed in Russian raids on Maaret al-Numan, an opposition-held town in Idlib province, it said.

The toll included two paramedics, two media activists and one child.

Another 14 civilians, including three children, were killed in Russian raids on Manbij, a town in Aleppo province held by the Islamic State group (IS), the monitor said.

Rights groups have condemned Russia for killing civilians in its air war, but Moscow insists it is fighting extremist groups.

Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is expected to meet ambassadors of world powers in Geneva on Wednesday, ahead of direct Syrian peace talks planned for 25 January.

A statement issued by his office said that he would also meet the ambassadors from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China and France as well as those of Russia and the United States.

The conflict in Syria erupted in March 2011 with anti-regime protests, which spiralled into a full-fledged war that has left more than 260,000 people dead and forced millions from their homes.