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Syrian army seizes key rebel-held town in Latakia

Oussef Karwashan, AFP | Syrian soldiers patrol the town of Salma, in the northwestern province of Latakia, which they recaptured two weeks ago

Syrian regime forces on Sunday overran the last major rebel-held town in the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, state television and a monitoring group reported.


Citing a military source, state television said Syria's "armed forces, in coordination with the popular defence [militia], seized control of the town of Rabiya."

The northwestern town had been held by the opposition since 2012 and was controlled by a range of rebel groups including some made up of Syrian Turkmen, as well as the Al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria, Rabiya fell on Sunday after a steady regime advance that left the town surrounded.

"In the past 48 hours, regime forces surrounded the town from three sides – the south, west, and north – by capturing 20 villages," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Abdel Rahman said senior Russian military officials were overseeing the battle for Rabiya, and that Russian air strikes "played an essential role" in the fight.

With the capture of Rabiya, government troops are closing in on rebel supply routes through the Turkish border to the north, he added.

Rabiya's fall comes two weeks after government troops seized the strategic town of Salma, a bastion of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which had been held by rebels since 2012.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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