PHOTO: A fighter from the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham in the mountains of northern Latakia Province
Rebels launched a counter-attack on Monday in Latakia Province in western Syria, trying to take the initiative from pro-Assad forces who have advanced since last autumn’s Russian aerial intervention.
Pro-rebel accounts claimed the assault was successful in the area near the Turkish border. They said ground was taken in the mountains of Jabal Turkmen and Jabal al-Akrad, including the villages of al-Qarmeel, Nahshabah, Mazghalah, and the Rasha hilltop.
Pro-regime accounts, including that of the embedded reporter Eyad al-Hossein, denied any gains by the rebels. They said the attacks were repelled and ended near the town of Kinsibba last night, although fighting continued elsewhere.
However, intense Russian airstrikes appear to be trying to push rebels out of areas taken on Monday.
Enabled by the Russian airstrikes, a regime offensive took much of northern Latakia Province from October, including the key town of Salma in December. Two months later, the Syrian military and moved into Kinsibba.
Since a now-dormant February 27 cessation of hostilities, rebels have held onto their remaining positions, including the town of Kabani, and launched some attacks.
Latakia Province has been considered an essential area for the Assad regime. On the Mediterranean and including the main Russian base near Latakia city, it is the ancestral home of President Assad.
Rebel preparations for the counter-attack:
Russian Ambassador: No Offensives on Aleppo & Raqqa Cities in Near-Future
Russia’s ambassador to Syria has poured cold water on declarations that pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes, will launch a ground offensive either the opposition-held areas of Aleppo city or the ISIS-held city of Raqqa in the near-future.
Alexander Kinshchak told the Russian State agency Interfax:
I am not confident than an offensive on Aleppo will take place in the foreseeable future.
As for Raqqa, in this case I would also like to refrain from any certain forecasts regarding its liberation.
Frankly speaking, I am not certain at all that this may happen in the nearest time.
Aleppo city has been divided since July 2012. Last weekend, pro-Assad forces launched another attempt to close off the main route, north of the city, to opposition areas (see entry below).
Last week, the Syrian military’s attempt to enter Raqqa Province ended in failure, with initial gains reversed by ISIS.
Video: Kurdish-Led Forces Outside ISIS-Held City of Manbij
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on the outskirts of the ISIS-held city of Manbij in Aleppo Province.
The offensive to capture the Islamic State’s main position in Aleppo began last month. The SDF — assisted by US-led airstrikes and American special forces and arms — has surrounded the city and reportedly took more areas, such as grain silos, in the past week.
Pro-Assad Advance Checked North of Aleppo
Pro-Assad forces have been checked in their latest offensive north of Aleppo city.
The Syrian military and foreign allies, including Russian airstrikes and Palestinian and Iraqi militias on the ground, began the attack last Saturday. They have been trying for months to close off the main route, located near Handarat village, into opposition-held areas of Syria’s largest city.
Pro-regime accounts claim that the force has taken the northern part of the al-Mallah Farms, acknowledge that the attackers were unable to move into the southern part on Monday.
Pro-rebel accounts acknowledged that territory was initially lost on Sunday, but assert that some positions have been recaptured.
Suicide Bombers Attack Lebanon Village Near Syrian Border
Eight suicide bombers attacked a Lebanese village near the Syrian border on Monday, killing five people and wounding dozens.
Security sources said they believed the Islamic State was responsible for the bombings in Qaa; however, there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Four suicide bombers attacked after 4 a.m., killing five civilians. In the evening, at least four more bombers struck as residents were preparing the funerals of those slain earlier. Two of the four bombers blew themselves up outside a church.
Only the bombers were killed in the second attacks, but medics said 15 people were injured.
The head of the Qaa local council urged residents to stay at home and shoot anyone suspicious, while the provincial governor imposed a curfew on Syrian refugees.