The Syrian army has recaptured all rebel-held positions in Latakia Province, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s home province, state-run SANA news agency reported yesterday, quoting a military source.
“The army retook control of the Nabi Ashia mountain range and adjoining areas in the north of Latakia Province,” the source said, of villages seized early this month by rebels trying to topple al-Assad.
On Sunday, state television reported that the army had reclaimed rebel-held villages in the coastal province, hinterland of al-Assad’s minority Alawite community.
However, a Syrian security force source said the army still had to recapture the Salma region, a strategic area along the border with Turkey that has been in rebel hands since the end of last year.
Rebels positioned in remote enclaves in Latakia’s mountains launched the “battle for the liberation of the Syrian coast” about two weeks ago.
They quickly captured a dozen Alawite villages near Qordaha, hometown of al-Assad’s late father and long-time Syrian president Hafez al-Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the “army has made progress” in Latakia Province, but could not confirm that it had recaptured all the villages seized by the rebels.
The Britain-based Observatory said that rebel fighters on Sunday shot down a military plane over Salma.
“The pilot bailed out, but was later captured, most likely by insurgents,” said the watchdog, which relies on a wide network of militants, medics and military sources on the ground.
Meanwhile, UN inspectors tasked with investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria arrived on Sunday in Damascus.
A team of more than 10 inspectors arrived at the Four Seasons hotel in the Syrian capital to begin their hard-won mission, which UN officials have said would last two weeks.
The mission had been repeatedly delayed over differences with the Syrian regime concerning the scope of the probe into the alleged use of chemical arms in the Syrian war.
Both the government and the rebels accuse each other of using chemical weapons.
The UN team is led by Swedish arms expert Aake Sellstroem and is expected to investigate Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo.
Two other sites — Ataybeh and Homs — are also expected to be inspected for attacks that reportedly took place in March and December last year respectively.
The mission is tasked to assess if chemical weapons were used during the conflict that erupted in March 2011 — but not to determine responsibility for any such attacks.