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Syrian forces regain control over last militant stronghold north of Latakia

February 18, 2016, 12:49 UTC+3 BEIRUT

The pro-government forces have regained control over the town of Kensaba and the Shellef fortress

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© Valeriy Sharifulin/TASS

BEIRUT, February 18. /TASS/. The Syrian army and self-defense forces have regained control over the town of Kensaba, the last stronghold of militants to the north of Latakia (320 kilometers from Damascus).

A spokesman for Syrian Armed Forces told SANA news agency on Thursday that Syrian forces also regained control over the Shellef fortress where fire positions of the enemy were situated.

Russia’s military operation becomes turning point in Syria crisis

Military expert and Former Brigadier General of the Lebanese Army Amin Hoteit told TASS earlier that the start of Russia’s military operation in Syria had become a turning point in the armed conflict in the country.

According to Hoteit, Russia’s "military factor" hampered the actions of militants both near and far from frontlines. This allowed to decrease "the rate of supplying weapons, ammunition and people [to militants] through the border [with Turkey] by 60-70%," he added.

"Support from the air considerably increased the opportunities of ground forces to maneuver, and now government forces are close to their aim - border with Turkey through which the main flow of weapons and militants is going," the former general noted.

Hoteit said that the US-led coalition was content with the previous "war of attrition" against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization and Syrian authorities. The United States have now "initiated the new round of peaceful efforts to reach their aim (regime change in Damascus) by means of political bargaining," he added.

"US cannot use military methods in Syria because it would lead to a Third World War. Another thing is also obvious - prospects of Syrian army appearing on the border with Turkey in several weeks and then possibly launching an offensive on the eastern front toward Raqqa will turn out to be a catastrophe for plans of the pro-US coalition. That is why Washington gave the green light to provocational threats coming from Saudi Arabia and to actions of Turkish forces against Kurds in Syria’s north (even in spite of US State Department’s public criticism of Ankara’s actions). The aim is obvious - to stop Syrian forces from advancing to the border," Hoteit concluded.

Russia's military operation in Syria

Russia’s Aerospace Force started delivering strikes in Syria at facilities of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups (both banned in Russia) on September 30, 2015. The air group initially comprised over 50 aircraft and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-24M, Su-25SM and state-of-the-art Su-34 aircraft. They were redeployed to the Khmeimim airbase in the province of Latakia. On October 7, Moscow also involved the Russian Navy in the military operation. Four missile ships of the Caspian Flotilla fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles (NATO codename Sizzler) at militants’ facilities in Syria.

Since 2014, the US-led coalition has also been delivering air strikes against militants in Syria and Iraq.

In mid-November, after an alleged terrorist attack on Russian passenger jet that fell in Egypt killing 224 people on board, Moscow increased the number of aircraft taking part in the operation in Syria by several dozen and involved strategic bombers in the strikes as well. Targets of the Russian aircraft include terrorists’ gasoline tankers and oil refineries. Russia’s aircraft have made thousands of sorties since the start of the operation in Syria, with over a hundred of them performed by long-range aircraft.

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter brought down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber involved in Moscow’s military operation against the Islamic State (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia).  Ankara claimed the warplane violated the Turkey’s airspace. The Russian Defense Ministry said the warplane was flying over Syrian territory without violating Turkey’s airspace. The Russian president referred to the attack as a “stab in Russia’s back” and promised that the move would cause response action from Russia. Moscow deployed new S-400 air defense systems in Syria in order to protect the warplanes involved in the military operation and started arming the fighters intended to provide air support to bombers and attack aircraft in Syria with air-to-air missiles.

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