Syrian government forces 'capture key town' in Latakia province

#SyriaWar

State news agency says army has re-established control of Salma and surrounding hilltops as monitor reports heavy toll from Russian strikes

Syria's state news agency on Tuesday carried images of government forces involved in the fighting in Latakia province (SANA)
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Wednesday 13 January 2016 13:44 UTC
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Syria's army and allied forces on Tuesday took full control from rebel groups of the town of Salma, in the northwestern province of Latakia, according to Syria's state news agency.

The SANA news agency said army units working with popular defence groups had re-established full control over the town as well as seizing surrounding hilltops, citing a military source.

The source said army troops were combing the area for mines and explosive devices, and said heavy losses had been inflicted on fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and the Ahrar al-Sahel Brigade.

The town's capture is considered a major boost for Syrian government forces who had been unable to oust occupying rebel groups since 2012, despite the government retaining control in most other areas of Latakia province.

Government forces backed by Russian air strikes and allied Hezbollah fighters have fought fierce battles in recent months to retake other rebel-held areas in the north of the province.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, Russia conducted more than 120 air strikes over 48 hours in support of the army's Salma offensive.

Russian strikes 'kill 35 civilians'

On Tuesday, Russian strikes killed 35 civilians in the provinces of Idlib, in Syria's northwest, and Aleppo, in the north, the Observatory said.

Twenty-one civilians were killed in Russian raids on Maaret al-Numan, an opposition-held town in Idlib province, it said.

The toll included two paramedics, two media activists and one child.

Another 14 civilians, including three children, were killed in Russian raids on Manbij, a town in Aleppo province held by the Islamic State (IS) group, the monitor said.

In comments carried by SANA on Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the support of "friendly nations" like Iran and Russia had allowed Syria to fight off "terrorism".

Speaking after meeting with Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Assad said he "appreciated the positions of Iran, which supported Syria in the face of terrorism".

"Friendly nations, chiefly Iran and Russia, have played an important role in supporting Syrians over the past five years," Assad said.

Since the country's uprising broke out nearly five years ago, Syria's government has regularly referred to all its opponents as "terrorists".

Fazli said Iran had "robustly" supported the Syrian people, who are engaged "in a global war against terrorism and takfiri extremist ideas," SANA reported.

He said on Monday that Iran was equipping and training Syrian government forces but not providing direct aid.

Iran denies having fighters on the ground in Syria.

But last year, a US official said as many as 2,000 fighters from Iran and its regional allies were supporting Syria's army in offensives against rebels.