UPDATE 1815 GMT: The head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba, and provisional Defense Minister visit insurgents in territory gained in the Latakia offensive:
— Zaid Benjamin (@zaidbenjamin) April 1, 2014
— Oubai Shahbandar (@OS26) April 1, 2014
— Zaid Benjamin (@zaidbenjamin) April 1, 2014
The regime and insurgents put out conflicting accounts on Monday on the state of the battle for Tower 45, the hilltop overlooking villages in northern Latakia Province.
Insurgents seized Tower 45 last week, inflicting heavy losses on Assad forces, near the start of their 11-day offensive.
Since then, the regime has sent convoys of reinforcements and shelled the area in an attempt to re-take the key point. On Monday, they launched a fierce ground attack on the tower.
State news agency SANA claimed, “Army units and national defense forces established full control over site 45 in Latakia’s northern countryside, and they continue to pursue the remnants of armed terrorist groups around, inflicting heavy losses upon them.”
However, a well-placed EA source in Syria said that insurgents still hold the tower.
An insurgent at Tower 45 in a video posted today:
Insurgents occupying Tower 45 last week:
Meanwhile, insurgents moving on nearby Mount al-Nisr and an abandoned regime outpost:
Local Media: 12 Men From Azerbaijan Killed While Fighting for Islamic State of Iraq
Azeribaijan media report that 12 men from the country have been killed in fighting in Syria in the past week.
The men were fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham.
It is not clear whether the men were killed in clashes with regime forces or with Syrian insurgents.
A sizable Azeri contingent was in the jihadist faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, led by the Chechen Umar Shishani, last year. The men probably moved to ISIS when Umar was declared an emir of the Iraqi-led organization.
Аt the time, JMA was led by Umar Shishani and had a sizable Azeri jamaat. This post on FiSyria is an address by Abu Yahya al-Azeri. It is likely that the jamaat moved over to ISIS with Umar Shishani.
Video: Did Insurgents Down Regime Helicopter in Idlib Province?
The insurgent faction Al-Sham Legion have posted footage of the attempted downing of a regime helicopter with an SA-7 MANPADS (man-portable air defense system).
On Monday, insurgent sources claimed they had downed a helicopter, or caused it to crash with a near-miss, as it took off from Abu ad Duhur military airbase in Idlib Province.
The sources said four regime officers, 30 troops, and the crew had been killed.
State Media: Residents Return to Yabroud After “Eradication of Terrorists”
State news agency SANA proclaims that residents of Yabroud, the largest city in the Qalamoun region between Damascus and the Lebanese border, have returned after the regime’s victory over insurgents two weeks ago.
SANA asserts that the residents were “forced by armed terrorist groups to leave their homes”.
The opposition held Yabroud, 60 kilometers north of Damascus, since the end of 2011 until regime troops re-entered after a four-month offensive with sustained bombardment of the city. Many of the 60,000 population fled during the assault.
Opposition Claims Insurgents Protected All Civilians in Kassab in Latakia Offensive
The Defense Ministry of the opposition’s interim government has said all units of the Free Syrian Army participating in the Latakia offensive “are committed to the protection of civilians and their properties regardless of sect and ethnicity”.
The Ministry followed the Islamic Front and the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra in denials of regime claims that insurgents abused the residents of Kassab as they toook the village near the Turkish border last week.
Most of Kassab’s population is Armenian Christian, and State media claimed that occupying fighters desecrated churches and intimidated the population, forcing many to flee.
The opposition counters that all churches and residents were protected. They say that civilians left the village to avoid fighting and regime shelling. The Ministry said that Free Syrian Army battalions are helping civilians relocate, by providing safe corridors and protection en route.
The Ministry concluded, “All rumors of the Free Syrian Army harming our brethren from the Armenian community are pure slander fabricated by the regime and its allies.”
The Mayor of Kassab has said that all residents of the village are safe and sound.
The only confirmed image of insurgent “atrocity” is a photograph of a church with its cross removed. Commanders subsequently rebuked the fighter who committed the offense.
An opposition website has posted a long entry refuting other claims of insurgent abuses.