Syrian army retakes key post in Latakia
DAMASCUS — Syrian army troops recaptured yesterday a key position in coastal Latakia province, a regime bastion, state television said, as fighters press a campaign in the region.
“Syrian army units have full control of Observatory 45 in the north of Latakia province and are continuing to pursue terrorist groups,” the state broadcaster said, citing the military.
Observatory 45 is a strategic hilltop that overlooks several areas inhabited by residents from the Alawite community, to which President Bashar al Assad belongs.
Sate television reported live from near the hilltop and broadcast pictures of dead bodies it said were “terrorists,” many of them non-Syrians.
Last week the fighters seized the hill as part of an offensive launched on March 21 in Latakia province, which had been relatively untouched by the widespread violence elsewhere in the country.
Rebel forces, including opposition from the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, have also captured the Armenian town of Kasab and the nearby Kasab border crossing with Turkey, as well as the village of Samra, giving them access to the Mediterranean for the first time.
More than 300 dead on both sides have been killed since the fighters launched their offensive, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
“The army has managed to install multiple rocket-launchers on Observatory 45, but fighting in continuing in the vicinity of the hillside,” the group said.
After a series of rebel losses in Damascus province, the opposition has shifted its focus to Latakia, where the army and pro-regime fighters have rallied to defend the area.
Yesterday, opposition forces fired Grad rockets at the Bassel al Assad airport for the first time.
The civilian facility is named for a deceased brother of the president and is near the town of Qardaha, the Assad clan’s ancestral home.
Assad’s father Hafez al Assad, who preceded as president, is buried in Qardaha. “The rockets landed near the airport without causing deaths or damage,” Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Syria’s conflict in now in its fourth year, and more than 146,000 people have been killed since it began.
Meanwhile, Turkey has fired artillery into Syria to retaliate after a cross-border rocket from the war-torn country had slammed into a mosque, Turkish media said yesterdayamid heightened tensions.
The rocket from Syria wounded an elderly Syrian refugee woman in Hatay province on Sunday, where several mortar rounds also hit the ground, without causing harm, the Dogan News Agency reported.
“In accordance with our new military engagement rules, our artillery units on the border fired into Syria in response,” Hatay officials were quoted saying in a statement.
Turkey, a staunch opponent of the regime in Damascus, hosts more than 750,000 refugees from the three-year-old Syrian conflict, many of them in camps along the border.
The military along Turkey’s Syria border often retaliates when munitions from fighting there hit its territory.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a late-night speech after his party scored a landslide victory in Sunday local polls, said “Syria is currently in a state of war against us.” — AFP