Syria regime presses
toward key Idlib town

Clashes are raging around Kabana, a Latakia mountain town a little over 10-kilometers southwest of Jisr al-Shughour.

Syrian army. (AFP/Youssef Karwashan)

BEIRUT – Pro-regime forces have continued to press their offensive in the mountains northeast of Syria’s coast, advancing in the direction of a key rebel-held town on the edge of the Idlib province.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday morning that “hit and run” clashes were ongoing around the mountainous Kabana area that lies a little over 10 kilometers southwest of Idlib’s Jisr al-Shughour.


Regime troops have not yet been able to advance into Kabana, although they seized the Zuweiqat mountaintop overlooking the village from its southern outskirts just days before.


The pro-opposition Qasioun News outlet said Wednesday morning that Syrian rebel forces “foiled an attempt by the regime forces and Hezbollah” to storm the Latakia village, while Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar­—a newspaper that supports Assad—touted  recent regime advances around Kabana.


The fighting for Kabana follows on the heels of a number of regime victories in the Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal Turkmen Mountains north of Latakia. On January 12, the Syrian army and allied militias seized the major-rebel stronghold of Salma—which lies 8 kilometers southwest of Kabana—before routing opposition forces on January 21 in Rabia, another key opposition redoubt.


Amid quickly shattering opposition lines, pro-regime forces—backed by heavy Russian airstrikes—seized the village of Kinsabba on February 2, further turning the screws on beleaguered rebels who face total defeat in the Latakia countryside straddling the border with Turkey.


Despite the start of a ceasefire on February 27 the regime has not stopped its blistering Latakia offensive, which it justifies with the presence of the Al-Nusra Front along the front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate not covered by the internationally-brokered deal that has seen a dramatic drop-off in hostilities across Syria.


According to the SOHR, Nusra was engaged in the fighting Wednesday around Kabana, which has pitted a number of factions—including the Free Syrian Army-affiliated 2nd Coastal Division and the Al-Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party—against pro-regime forces under the direction of Russian officers.


A media activist told the pro-rebel Al-Souria Net that Russia and the regime took advantage of the cease-fire agreement with Syrian opposition forces across the country in order to bolster its forces in the north Latakia front.


Strategic implications


The regime’s latest offensive on Kabana comes as part of a greater campaign that seeks not only to sweep opposition forces from the Latakia province but also threaten rebel lines in the west of the neighboring Idlib province.


Kabana and the nearby village of Kabana lie less than eight kilometers south of the M4 highway that runs from Latakia through Jisr al-Shughour, which rebels seized in late April 2015.


Al-Souria Net highlighted the threat to the strategic rebel-held town on Tuesday in an article entitled “Regime forces advance in Rif Latakia and approach closer to Jisr al-Shughour.”


A defected Syrian army officer analyzing the front told the pro-rebel news website that the regime’s military plan in northwest Syria calls for “complete control over the remaining [mountaintops] in the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkmen mountains and to cut opposition supply lines between Latakia and Idlib.”


“The regime and Russian plans require access to Jisr al-Shughour,” the former officer claimed, adding that the rebel-held center is “one of the most important defensive lines for the towns and villages loyal to the regime” in the nearby Al-Ghab Plain, an area south of Idlib that rebels attacked in mid-2015.


Amid the offensive on Kabana, the regime has unleashed a withering bombardment on Jisr al-Shughour and nearby areas, with opposition sources saying that over 50 rockets had hit the town Tuesday.


The SOHR tracking developments in war-torn Syria reported the same day that “warplanes bombed areas in the village of Al-Najiyah” outside Jisr al-Shugour, while regime forces unleashed their artillery on the nearby village of Badama.


Al-Akhbar, for its part, reported that the regime “stepped up its artillery and airstrikes” on the two villages west of Jisr al-Shughour, saying that rebels had installed “dozens of mortar emplacements and artillery batteries” there to target the Kabana front. 


NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.

Syrian army soldier northeast of Latakia. (AFP/Youssef Karwashan)

The regime and Russian plans require access to Jisr al-Shughour.