BEIRUT: Syrian forces seized the strategic northern town of Ariha yesterday, an opposition group said, in a move that would open the supply line between the coastal stronghold and pockets of army control in a region that is largely rebel controlled.
Other activists, however, said the battle was not over and that rebels were still fighting the regime in Ariha, located near a major highway in the northern province of Idlib.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the military gain, said loyalist paramilitary forces, known as the National Defence Forces, stormed and captured Ariha under the cover of a fierce army artillery assault.
“This allows the regime in (coastal) Latakia to reconnect the land routes between them and their forces in Idlib province, which were under strain in an area surrounded by rebel forces,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory. He said the army was now pummelling other nearby towns and mountainous territories where rebels may be based in an effort to cement control of the area.
Some activists in Idlib said Assad’s military had not yet captured the town, with air strikes and fierce clashes raging; but they were not optimistic the opposition would be able to push back the army. “They still haven’t taken it. But they will. They’ve seized a large piece and they’ll slowly advance if the situation stays like this,” said Ahmad, an activist living in the province, speaking by Skype.
Assad’s forces in recent months have gained ground in central Syria and around the capital Damascus, but have made no major dent in rebel control of large swathes of northern or eastern Syria. The army has threatened a new campaign in the north but so far there has been no major assault.