Syria says it seized key rebel redoubt in Latakia

January 12, 2016  

Syria’s army and forces allied to it took full control Tuesday 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 Defense Forces militia, had also wrested hilltops surrounding the town from rebel factions.

Government forces were combing the area for mines and explosive devices that were left behind by terrorist groups in the buildings, streets, and squares of the town,” the TV report said.

The retaking of the town is a major victory for Syria’s army, which has been locked in a stalemate with rebel factions in the province for a long time.

Since 2012, Salma had been the main stronghold of opposition militias in Latakia, a province which is 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. Pro-Assad forces have fought in recent months to retake those areas, with help from Hezbollah fighters. Since September 30, they have been assisted by an intense Russian air campaign.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russia carried out more than 120 air strikes within a period of 48 hours in support of the army’s Salma offensive.

On Tuesday, Russian air strikes killed 35 civilians in the provinces of Idlib, in Syria’s northwest, and Aleppo, in the north, the Observatory said. Twenty-one of these civilians were killed in the Russian raids on Maaret al-Numan, an opposition-held town in Idlib province. Another 14 civilians, including three children, were killed in Manbij, a town in Aleppo province held by the Islamic State jihadist group, the monitor said.

In comments carried by state news agency SANA on Tuesday, Assad said the support of “friendly nations” like Iran and Russia had allowed Syria to fight off “terrorism”.

‘No comparison’ to Madaya

The suffering in the western Syrian town of Madaya is the worst seen in the country’s civil war, the United Nations said Tuesday, a day after delivering aid to the area besieged for months.

“There is no comparison [to] what we saw in Madaya,” the UN refugee agency’s chief in Damascus, Sajjad Malik, told journalists in Geneva, when asked to compare the devastation in the town to other areas in Syria.

He said there were “credible reports” of people starving to death during the months-long siege by pro-regime forces.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, told journalists in New York on Monday that there was “no starvation in Madaya” after the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 28 people in the town had starved to death.

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