Albin Szakola

Syria regime advancing
on Latakia-Idlib highway

Rebels are resorting to ambushes to prevent pro-regime forces from seizing Kinsabba, a village approximately four kilometers south of the M4 highway.


BEIRUT – Pro-regime forces have continued to push back struggling rebels in the mountains northeast of Latakia, with Syrian army troops backed by allied militias advancing on a town overlooking the highway leading from the province toward opposition-held Idlib.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday that regime forces had seized territory near the village of Kinsabba, which is located on a 635-meter tall mountaintop approximately 4 kilometers south of the M4 highway that runs through Idlib’s Jisr al-Shugour.


“[Pro-regime forces] have seized the Aydu, Wadi Basour, Ballah, and Shillif,” all located on the western and southern outskirts Kinsabba, the monitoring NGO added.


Pro-rebel media have raised the alarm over the regime threat to Kinsabba, while pro-Assad outlets have touted advances in the area, with the state SANA news agency claiming Tuesday that a “number of terrorists fled toward the Syrian-Turkish border.”


A defected regime officer stressed the importance of the Jabal al-Akrad village in an interview with the pro-opposition Al-Souria Net website.


“Regime control of the village of Kinsabba and the [Al-Kabana] heights heralds great dangers, the most important of which are firstly the loss of all remaining commanding and strategic hills [in the area],” Othman Asbro told the outlet.


He added that control over Al-Kabana would place regime troops in a position overlooking “most of the vital roads [used by] opposition forces in the Al-Ghab Plain and the town of Jisr al-Shughour.”


“The goal of this campaign is to distance all kinds of heavy weaponry, including field artillery and rocket launchers, available to the rebels from military barracks in the city of Latakia, the Russian base in Hmeimim and the [air] Fleet 618 Base.”


Meanwhile, a rebel commander in the area told the Dubai-based Alaan television that Kinsabba is “the largest remaining rebel gathering in Latakia countryside.”


Pro-regime forces have steadily advanced in the mountains north of Latakia since the start of a major offensive in the region backed by Russian airstrikes in late October.


On January 12, the Syrian army and allied militias seized the major-rebel stronghold of Salma—which lies 7 kilometers south of Kinsabba—before routing opposition forces on January 21 in Rabia, another key opposition redoubt.


Rebels take to guerilla tactics


The under-fire rebels in the Jabal al-Akrad front have resorted to hit-and-run tactics in the face of strong regime firepower.


Local rebel commander Abu Muhammad said that his forces “have laid many ambushes.”


The mountainous nature [of Kinsabba and the fact that] it overlooks a large number of strategic areas have made it impossible for regime forces to advance as easily as they had imagined they would,” he told Alaan television in an interview published Wednesday.


A field activist speaking to Al-Souria Net echoed these comments, saying that the rebels are now applying the strategy of “inflicting the largest possible amount of losses in the ranks of the militias through ambushes.”


The activist, who goes by the moniker Hajj Bakri, added that although “regime forces have been unable to advance [yet into Kinsabba], the scorched earth policy being followed by Russia and its ally through their intensive air strikes are making it difficult for the opposition to hold onto the area.”


The pro-rebel outlet said that regime has sought to bolster its attacking ranks by calling up Sea Commandos from Latakia’s Naval Academy to fight alongside already present National Defense Force units, the Desert Falcons and the Syrian Resistance for the Liberation of Liwa Iskenderun, a pro-government militia based in Syria’s coastal region.


Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the pro-regime operation room organizing efforts in Jabal Akrad was being directed by Russian officers, while Russian soldiers and “Syrian, Arab and Asian militiamen” were backing the regime forces in the fierce clashes against the Free Syrian Army affiliated Second Coastal Division, Turkestan Islamic Party, Al-Nusra Front and other rebel factions in Kinsabba.


Ullin Hope contributed translations of Arabic-language source material for this article.

A Syrian rebel position in Latakia's Jabal al-Akrad. (AFP)

Regime control of the village of Kinsabba and the [Al-Kabana] heights heralds great dangers, the most important of which are firstly, the loss of all remaining commanding and strategic hills [in the area].

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