Syrian government pushes into border town in Assad coastal heartland

by Reuters
Sunday, 15 June 2014 08:45 GMT

Rebel fighters are seen on a tank during what they said an offensive against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad who are positioned around the Armenian Christian town of Kasab May 26, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Khweled

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Syrian government forces were assisted by the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah

BEIRUT, June 15 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have pushed into Kasab, a village on the border with Turkey and in the coastal heartland of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority sect, a monitoring group and state media said.

The withdrawal of most rebel forces from the village - including some linked to al Qaeda - is another blow to an opposition that has been undermined by recent gains by Assad's forces and by infighting.

A number of fighters stayed behind in Kasab after the departure of most of the rebels, who included fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late on Saturday.

On Sunday morning, Syrian state television said government forces had "restored stability and security" to Kasab and engineering teams were removing mines and explosives planted by "terrorist gangs," the government's customary term for rebels.

The Observatory said clashes in the area continued from around midnight on Saturday night, but did not give casualty figures.

Syrian government forces were assisted by the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah as well as fighters of Syrian and foreign nationality, the Observatory said.

Rebel forces had taken Kasab, a majority Armenian Christian village, in March, the first time they were able to capture a settlement on the Mediterranean coast. One of Assad's cousins, a militia commander, was killed in fighting in the area.

Syria's coastal areas are the historic homeland of Assad's family and home to many members of his Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shi'ite Islam. The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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