Key Syrian town retaken by pro-regime forces

  • 25/01/2016

Syrian pro-government forces have recaptured a key rebel-held town in coastal Latakia province, building on battlefield advances in the area ahead of planned peace talks this week in Geneva between Damascus and Syria's opposition.

Government troops and militiamen, supported by Moscow's air power and joined on the ground by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Iranian forces, have pressed offensives in the west and northwest of the country in recent months, seeking to reverse gains made by insurgents last year.

The latest advance on Sunday (local time) comes ahead of peace talks originally set for Monday but which now look likely to be delayed, partly due to a dispute over the opposition negotiating team's composition.

The opposition has also said Russia must stop bombing civilian areas and Damascus must lift sieges before it will join talks.

The recapture of the town of Rabiya in Latakia province has paved the way for an advance up to the border with Turkey, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian state television confirmed Rabiya's capture.

Turkey supports insurgents battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has the backing of Russia and Iran.

The Observatory described Rabiya as the "second most important base for (rebel) fighters in the northern Latakia countryside" after the town of Salma, which pro-government forces seized earlier this month in one of the most significant advances since Russia joined the fight.

The United States has said it is confident the talks in Geneva will go ahead this week despite continued disagreements.

Lead opposition negotiator Mohamad Alloush said US Secretary of State John Kerry had put pressure on them to attend the Geneva talks in order to negotiate a halt to Russian bombardments, the lifting of blockades and the release of detainees – measures it has insisted must be implemented before any negotiations go ahead.