January 12, 2016 / 7:14 PM / in 2 years

Syria pro-government forces seize rebel-held town in Latakia province

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian pro-government troops retook a front-line town in Latakia province from insurgents on Tuesday, a monitoring group and state media said, in a push by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to recover lost territory in the west.

Rebel fighters fire mortar shells at the frontline in the Jabal al-Akrad area in Syria's northwestern Latakia province, April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops and fighters from Lebanon’s allied Hezbollah movement have entered Salma, located northeast of Latakia’s coastal capital along front lines between rebels and Assad’s forces. Syria’s state news agency SANA said its troops had taken control of Salma and nearby hills.

Pro-government forces were supported by dozens of air strikes, the Observatory said, adding that Russian officers were overseeing the assault.

Assad’s forces have been focusing offensives in the western provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Homs in a campaign to recapture territory and cut rebel supply lines.

The army and its allies have gained ground in Aleppo and Latakia provinces, but rebels have managed to advance in other regions including Hama province.

Pro-government forces including Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters are backed by Russian air support in Syria. Russian warplanes have bombed rebels in Latakia province, including in the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkman areas.

Russia intervened in the nearly five-year-old civil war on Assad’s side in September, saying it was targeting the Islamic State insurgent group. U.S. officials say that most of the Russian air strikes have hit other rebel groups fighting Assad, including foreign-backed insurgents.

Reporting by John Davison, Lisa Barrington and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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