AFP – Syrian government forces on Sunday recaptured the strategic town of Kasab, near the only border crossing with Turkey in northwestern province of Latakia, state television reported.
“Units from the army are reestablishing security in the province of Latakia after killing a large number of terrorists and destroying their weapons,” the television said, referring to rebels who had been in control of the town for more than two months.
Kasab, an Armenian town, is strategically important because it is located near the only border crossing with Turkey in sensitive Latakia province, the heartland of the Alawite sect from which Assad hails.
Rebel fighters including members of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front withdrew from the town on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, leaving only a small number of men behind.
As they pulled back, Assad’s troops backed by other pro-regime groups, among them Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah, had advanced on the village of Nabaein near to Kasab.
On Sunday, the Britain-based Observatory said that government troops had entered Kasab, held by the rebels since 21 March, but that fighting was still raging in the town.
“Fighting is still pitching soldiers against the rebels who started there,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Most rebels withdrew, he said, after “the army, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Shi’a Hezbollah, was able to take the hills surrounding Kasab”.
Rebels were short on supplies, and experienced Hezbollah fighters and Syrian special forces were able to advance, Abdel Rahman said.
“The insurgents did not want to be besieged in Kasab” by the army, he said.
Under frequent bombardment by government forces, Kasab was vital for rebels who used it as a staging post to transport their wounded to Turkey, which backs the opposition.
The Syrian government had accused Ankara of helping rebel groups seize Kasab.