Syria’s army said on June 15 it had recaptured the strategic town of Kassab, near the only border crossing with Turkey in Latakia province, after it fell to rebels almost three months ago.
“After crushing many members of the mercenary terrorist gangs… units of our armed troops in collaboration with the (paramilitary) National Defence Force returned safety and security to Kassab this morning,” an army statement said.
Kassab, an Armenian town, is important because it is located near the only border crossing with Turkey in sensitive Latakia province, the heartland of the Alawite sect from which President Bashar al-Assad hails.
Rebel fighters including members of Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front withdrew without a fight from the town on June 14, 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, advanced on the nearby village of Nabaein.
By June 15, the Britain-based Observatory said, pro-regime forces were back in control of Kassab – the first time since they lost it to rebels on March 21.
Aside from Hezbollah fighters, the government forces, led by members of Syria’s elite Republican Guard, had been boosted by Iranian troops.
Rebels were short on supplies and experienced Hezbollah fighters and Syrian special forces were able to advance, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Under frequent bombardment by government forces, Kassab was important 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.