DAMASCUS. – The Syrian army wrested complete control over the town of Rabiah, the second most important rebel stronghold in the coastal province of Latakia, a week after the military forces captured the town of Salma, the the number one most important rebel bastion in that area near Turkey, state news agency SANA reported.
Rabiah enjoys special significance as it contains, and surrounded by, many military camps of the armed rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.
For the rebels, the town was an important logistic base along with Salma in the northern countryside of Latakia.
The FSA also confirmed the loss of Rabiah, saying in a statement that the Syrian forces backed by the Russian air force controlled the town. It added that the town had fallen after intense battles between the regime forces and the rebels.
After the loss of Rabiah, the militants started pulling out of all villages west of the town’s surroundings, a military source told Xinhua.
SANA said the Syrian troops are combing the area and dismantling explosive devices and mines, which, it said, were planted by terrorists before they fled toward the Turkish territories.
SANA added that the town is only 13 kilometers from the Turkish borders, adding that heavy infiltration of foreign jihadists into Syria was happening from the Turkish territories.
The fresh progress is part of an ongoing crushing offensive the Syrian army backed by the Lebanese Hezbollah and Russian air force unleashed against the rebels in the countryside of Latakia and the northern province of Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and once an economic hub.
The fresh progress in Rabiah, located in the Turkmen Mountain where Tureky-backed rebels are operating, reflects the resolve of the Syrian troops to hit hard at rebel bastions in northern Syria.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the capture of Rabiah took place in cooperation with the Russian military operations room, run by Russian military officers, and the participation of Russian soldiers.
In an earlier report, the UK-based watchdog group said Russian soldiers were fighting alongside the Syrian government forces in Latakia.
The Russian operations room commanded by Russian officers is supervising the Syrian forces’ battles against the rebels in the northern countryside of Latakia, said the Observatory.
The Russian Air Force has been striking the positions of the ultra-radical groups in Syria since last September. The Syrian government hails the strikes as efficient in curbing the expansion of the terrorist groups, while the opposition accuse the Russians of targeting civilians as well.
Russia previously said its military experts were on ground in Syria, however, reports of Russian soldiers fighting is something new. – Xinhua.