Assad’s forces deploy in Latakia to repel rebel offensive

The FSA says dozens of Syrian troops were killed in an attack in the strategic Latakia province

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The Syrian regime was forced to withdraw some of its forces from the central cities of Hama and Idlib to bolster its presence in the more strategic coastal city of Latakia, which has come under heavy offensive by the opposition forces, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Thursday, citing rebel sources.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said battles raged over key flashpoints in Latakia, nearly two weeks into a rebel offensive against the heartland of President Bashar al-Assad's clan and Alawite sect.

Fighting was especially fierce over a strategic hilltop known as Observatory 45, overrun by rebels last week, the Observatory said in statements carried by Agence France-Presse.

"Since last night, the fighting has been focused on Observatory 45. The army advances and takes over, then the rebels advance and push them back out," said its director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Supporting the army and militia on the ground, the air force launched several strikes targeting the hill, the Britain-based monitor said.

Regime warplanes also struck rebel-held areas in the nearby Jabal Akrad area, a hill district under insurgent control for many months.

Rebels and their jihadist ally al-Nusra Front have since seized several positions and villages including the Kasab area, home to a border crossing into Turkey.

Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed in the battles for Latakia, including 20 rebels killed in the past day alone, said the Observatory.

The rebel Syrian Free Army said “dozens of regimes forces were either killed or wounded” in an attack on Thursday.

Just over a week into the fighting, opposition chief Ahmad Jarba visited several rebel areas of Latakia, expressing support for the opposition fighters there and pledging funding.

But on Thursday, rebel chief for the area Mustafa Hashim accused the opposition National Coalition of failing to honour its promises.

"We hear from the radio and television channels that the president of the National Coalition visited the coast (Latakia) to have his picture taken and to divide the revolutionaries' ranks," said Hashim in a statement posted on YouTube.

"They (the Coalition) say they are giving military support to the revolutionaries but this is not true to this day," he added.

Elsewhere, four mortar rounds hit the Dukhaniyeh area near Damascus, killing six children and wounding five other people, said state news agency SANA.

Seven others were wounded in central Damascus, in three mortar attacks, one of which struck near the landmark Umayyad Square, SANA said.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year war, with half the population estimated to have fled their homes.

[With AFP]

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