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Syrian opposition advance in Latakia, say activists - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Rebel fighters gather along the road carrying their weapons near the village of Qasab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia, on March 23, 2014. (AFP Photo/Amr Radwan Al-Homsi)

Rebel fighters gather along the road carrying their weapons near the village of Qasab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia, Syria, on March 23, 2014. (AFP Photo/Amr Radwan Al-Homsi)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Syrian activists said opposition forces continued to make gains in the governorate of Latakia on Wednesday, and had taken control of the village of Nabaeen, south of Qasab, on the Syrian–Turkish border.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were reports of heavy fighting in the Qasab area and the nearby village of Nabaeen between government forces supported by local forces on one side and Al-Nusra Front fighters and other Islamist brigades on the other.

The director of the group, Rami Abdul Rahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that heavy fighting was ongoing on the strategic Marsad 45 hill in Latakia. Reports by a number of pro-government sources said the Syrian army had taken control of the hill.

Abdul Rahman said a foreign suicide bomber from the opposition Islamist brigades “raised the government flag on a booby-trapped military vehicle, and drove it through a government military checkpoint, followed by a group which advanced on the Marsad and regained control of it.”

He added: “Bombardment by government forces forced Al-Nusra Front, Ansar Al-Sham and Sham Al-Islam to slow down for a while.”

Video footage published on the Internet by opposition activists over the previous week showed fighters swimming in the sea and others raising their flags on some parts of the Syrian coastline. Activists said the area was northernmost point of the Syrian coast, a beach close to the settlement of Samra, near the Turkish border.

Abdul Rahman said the terrain of the area and its demographic mix of Alawite and Christian residents “prevented the fighters from imposing total control in that area.”

He added that a large number of Alawite volunteers had arrived from Banyas and Tartus to bolster government forces “because they view this battle as a matter of life and death.”

Meanwhile, opposition sources in Latakia said a large number of residents were fleeing the area due to the heavy fighting. The sources added that the residents of villages around the Turkmen Mountain area, who are predominantly Alawite and Christian, “were . . . moving to safer areas along the coast.”

The site of the clashes is around 40 miles (64 kilometers) north from the city of Latakia, and the opposition is now reportedly in control of the Qasab border crossing as well as the town of Samra.

The Observatory also said government helicopters attacked strategic points in Syria’s northern mountains, bombing the region of Salma around the Jabal Al-Akrad, and the Jabal Turkmen, east of the town of Qastal Maaf.

The latter has been the scene of battles in recent days, with Islamist fighters attempting to take control of the area.

The Observatory reported that twin bombs struck the dentistry college in the Mezzeh district of Damascus, while government forces targeted other areas around the capital with artillery fire and air strikes.

The Islamist rebel group Jaysh Al-Islam, meanwhile, denied reports that its fighters had withdrawn from Damascus, describing the reports as a campaign against it.

In Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, the Observatory said seven fighters from the Al-Nusra Front were killed while raiding the house of a former member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who refused to surrender.

The Observatory added: “While Al-Nusra fighters were raiding the house, clashes erupted between armed men from the tribe who were not affiliated to ISIS, and a number of armed men who were affiliated to Al-Nusra.”

Abdul Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fighters “violated the code followed by the tribe and dishonored the tribe’s values, which prompted the tribe’s men to fight in order to protect their tribal values.”