Syrian rebels, Nusra edge closer to Latakia province
Rebel fighters gather along the road carrying their weapons near the village of Qasab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia, Syria, on March 23, 2014. (AFP/Amr Radwan Al-Homsi)
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An alliance of Syrian rebel groups, including al-Qaeda's Nusra Front, has pushed pro-government military forces into positions in Latakia province.
Located in northwestern Syria, Latakia province is home to much of the country's minority Alawite sect. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, himself an Alawite, have set up in positions in the Sahl al-Ghab plain, just east of the coastal mountain village of Qardaha, the BBC reports.
The resetting of the front line comes after a series of setbacks for Assad loyalists in the face of an allied rebel assault in Idlib province, to the east.
In the month after they captured the city of Idlib in March, the rebels seized Jisr al-Shughour, the last government-held town in the province, allowing for attacks on Latakia in the west.
The reversal joins the Syrian military's loss of the town of al-Qaryatain, in Homs province, to the south. Islamic State militants seized the town last week, allowing them to link with forces in eastern portions of the province, including in Palmyra, which IS captured from pro-Assad forces in May.
Syrian state news on Sunday reported the Syrian air force killing up to 30 IS militants during airstrikes in al-Qaryatain.
Last month Assad acknowledged his forces had to give up certain areas in order to hold onto others, but he vowed to "resist and ... win," saying the "word 'defeat' does not exist in the Syrian army's dictionary."
One day prior, Assad reportedly announced amnesty for Syria's estimated 70,000 draft dodgers and deserters.
At least 230,000 people have died since Syria's civil war began in March 2011, and Assad's once 300,000-strong military force has been cut in half by desertions and casualties. At least 80,000 soldiers and pro-government militiamen have been killed.
By Fred Lambert
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