World Bulletin / News Desk
Opposition rebels in Syria captured a village on the Mediterranean coast for the first time and battled to hold territory abutting the nearby Turkish border taken from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, activists said on Tuesday.
Video footage showed six fighters holding the black banner of the Ansar al-Sham brigade on a rocky beach, a symbolic rebel victory in the coastal province of Latakia, that has been an Assad stronghold throughout three years of conflict.
"This is the first area of coast in Syria to be liberated," said an activist who used the name Abu Bakr, referring to the beach and nearby village of Samra.
As they march along the Mediterranean coast southwards, rebels have been battling to take control of Bashar al-Assad's home village Qardaha.
Latakia and the neighbouring Tartous provinces together form the Mediterranean heartland of Assad's minority Alawite faith and have remained loyal to him as he battles mainly Sunni Muslim rebels in a civil war which has killed more than 140,000 people.
After months of setbacks in central Syria, rebels launched an offensive on Friday into the Latakia region, taking the border crossing and the village of Kasab.
Since then, Assad has sent army and militia reinforcements, backed by air power, to repulse the rebels, leading to heavy fighting across the strip of territory along the Turkish border.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 pro-Assad fighters and six rebels were killed on Tuesday fighting for a strategic hilltop close to Kasab. Seventy-five wounded rebels were taken for treatment in Turkey.
The ferocity of the fighting highlights the significance which Assad - one of whose cousins, Hilal, a militia commander, was killed near Kasab on Sunday - attaches to repelling the rebel thrust.
The border crossing at Kasab they seized had been the last point of entry from Turkey into territory fully under control of Assad's forces, since most of the northern border region is already under rebel control.Last Mod: 26 Mart 2014, 11:58