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The 2014 Latakia offensive is an ongoing rebel offensive in the Latakia Governorate launched on 21 March 2014 by rebel Islamist groups including Al-Nusra Front, which called the offensive "Anfal",[1] while another coalition of rebel groups called the offensive "The Martyrs Mothers". The objectives of the offensive have been stated to be the taking over of all strategic observatories, government villages and the Mediterranean coast.[2] According to a local activist in Latakia, rebels also hoped that this offensive would relieve pressure on other rebels who are badly weakened elsewhere in the country.[3]

Rebel offensiveEdit

Kesab gen. view 2010

Kasab in 2010.

On 21 March 2014, rebel fighters led by the Al-Nusra front, advanced from Turkish territory and attacked the Kasab border crossing with Turkey. They managed to capture guard posts around the crossing but not the crossing itself. Rebel fighters also captured the nearby Al-Sakhra hill[4][5] and a police station[6] and directed mortar fire from the hill at the crossing and at the nearby Alawite village of Karsana, killing five people including a child. The leader of Al-Nusra for Latakia province was killed during the fighting.[4][6] Rebels had also captured the Jabal al-Nisr mountain, but it was recaptured by the military within hours.[7]

By 22 March, the rebels managed to capture the Kasab crossing, while the Kasab town remained under government control and fighting was still continuing around both of them.[8] Government forces launched a counter-attack in an attempt to recapture the crossing[9] and a security source stated the Army had retaken the previous day two police stations that were seized by the rebels.[10] According to the opposition activist group the SOHR, rebels at the crossing had been targeted by government troops since the previous day.[9] In the meantime, rebels directed their attacks against a strategic hill known as Observatory 45,[9] which they captured later in the day.[11] Overall, the SOHR reported fighting in three government-held villages that were coming under a rebel attack and three rebel-held villages which the Army was trying to capture.[10] As fighting spread to other villages, the military responded with air strikes and ambushes which left 20 rebels dead and 30 wounded[12] around Observatory Kherbah Solas.[13]

On 23 March, Turkish F-16s jet fighters shot down a Syrian warplane as it bombed rebels fighting around the border post.[14] The pilot ejected safely, according to a Syrian military spokesman, who also claimed that the plane was in Syrian airspace;[15] Turkish officials, however, claimed it violated their airspace.[16] Meanwhile, significant military reinforcements were sent to the border area.[12] Rebels also launched a new attack against the village of Kherbah Solas, about 25 kilometers south of Kasab.[17] Opposition sources claimed that over 20 soldiers surrendered to the rebels in the village of Nab Al-Murr after a three-hour siege on a building.[18] Later during the day, government forces recaptured Observatory 45 and secured the village of Al-Samra,[19] while rebels captured the village of Al-Nab’in[20] and the surroundings of Jabal al-Nisr, which forced the Army to evacuate it. However, the rebels were not able to capture the top of Jabal al-Nisr itself due to the Army's control of Observatory 45, which is the highest point in the region and oversees Jabal al-Nisr.[7] During the day's fighting, the NDF commander of Latakia province, Hilal al-Assad, and seven pro-government militiamen were killed in fighting in Kasab.[21] According to the rebel Islamic Front, he was killed when they used Grad rockets to hit a scheduled meeting of pro-government militia leaders in Latakia city.[22]

On 24 March, according to the SOHR, rebels were in control of the village of Kasab, after capturing the main square[23] the previous day,[24] with fighting continuing in the town's outskirts,[23] specifically the hills outside the center of Kasab.[25] However, according to a military source, neither side had control of the village and the situation was unclear.[23] Rebel jihadists reportedly took Armenian families hostage in Kasab and desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches.[26] The Army managed to recapture the town of Nab al-Murr.[7] Meanwhile, Turkish media claimed the leader of the pro-government Syrian Resistance militia, Mihraç Ural, had been killed the previous day.[27][28] However, that evening Mihraç Ural posted a video on his Facebook account denying rumors of his death.[29] Al-Arabiya television also claimed that two other cousins of Bashar al-Assad were killed in the fighting.[30]

According to Col. Afif al-Suleimani, head of Idlib's rebel Military Council, the Army withdrew many of its soldiers from Idlib province to reinforce their forces in Latakia province after the rebel offensive against the coastal area began.[30]

On 25 March, rebels captured Al-Samra[31] and were reportedly advancing towards Anfal.[32] A military source denied the village had fallen stating that fighting was still ongoing and that the Army was in complete control of the mountains overlooking Al-Samra.[31] Meanwhile, fighting was still raging at Kasab, with the Army shelling the town and the Air force striking it four times around noon.[32] Later, a pro-government news agency claimed the Army managed to recapture most of Kasab.[33] According to the Editor-in-Chief of Aztag Daily, information warfare was being conducted and that it was too early to conclude whether government forces managed to regain control of the town, but confirmed fighting was ongoing.[34] Rebels had also once again captured Observatory 45,[35] after a Tunisian suicide bomber in an armored troop carrier blew himself up[36] in the Observatory's yard killing a number of soldiers, including Colonel Samuel Ghannum, commander of Observatory 45.[37] The fall of the Observatory removed the threat of artillery strikes against Jabal al-Nisr and the rebels were able to occupy its peak. Government troops from the hill retreated towards Qastal Maaf.[7] Fighting around Observatory 45 continued.[38] Meanwhile, the Army recaptured Al-Nab’in.[39] 19 rebels and 16 soldiers were killed during the day's fighting[36] and 40 soldiers and 100 rebels were wounded.[35] The Turkish Army accused the Syrian government of "harassing" five Turkish F-16 fighter jets with surface-to-air missile systems. The Turkish F-16's intercepted four Syrian aircraft approaching Turkish airspace in Yayladagi and Cilvegozu of Hatay province in southern Turkey before the incident occurred.[40]

On 26 March, rebels slowly pressed their advance from Observatory 45 and attacked the town of Qastal Maaf. Fighting had also renewed at Al-Nab’in. The battle for both towns had been described as a seesaw one with both attacks and retreats.[41] At the same time, fighting continued around Kasab, Observatory 45 and Al-Samra[42] as the Army intensified its shelling on Kasab and Al-Samra. The government mobilised thousands of soldiers and NDF fighters to retake the areas that had been lost to the rebels and many government supporters, the majority of them Alawites, volunteered to fight against the rebels.[43] A military officer claimed rebels had been pushed back from Observatory 45, but were still in nearby areas.[44] Another source also confirmed that the Army had beaten back the rebels from Observatory 45, but did not reoccupy it, instead securing the hill's surroundings. The military had also evacuated from Nab al-Murr, due to the town's vulnerability to rebel shelling from Observatory 45 and Jabal al-Nisr.[7] Pro-government sources claimed 500 rebels[37] and 50 soldiers had been killed since the start of the offensive, while the SOHR stated around 100 fighters on each side had died.[43]

The Syrian government called on the United Nations to halt the Turkish involvement in the Kasab region. It accused the Turkish government for "organizing, receiving, funding and hosting tens of thousands of terrorists from various Takfiri movements and facilitating their entry into the Syrian territories" and for providing the rebels with direct military support in the region.[45]

On 27 March, several helicopter and air strikes were conducted against Observatory 45,[46] while Jabhat Al-Nusra reinforcements arrived in the contested areas.[47] Two pro-government sources reported the military managed to defend their positions at Al-Nab’in and Qastal Maaf and was advancing towards Kasab from the two towns.[48][49] A pro-opposition source reported that rebels managed to capture Al-Nab’in but that fighting was ongoing as the military was trying to recapture both it and Kasab.[50] Another source reported that the military recaptured Al-Nab’in after it received reinforcements from troops who evacuated Jabal al-Nisr.[7] Fighting was also still raging around Al-Samra.[51] A pro-government newspaper also claimed another 200 rebel fighters had been killed in the last day.[48] The military intelligence head in Latakia province was reportedly able to escape after he was surrounded by rebels for five days in Al-Nab’in.[52] By the end of this day, according to the SOHR, more than 150 pro-government fighters, including 14 officers, had been killed since the start of the offensive.[53]

On 28 March, it was reported that the rebels had blocked several attempts by the Syrian Army to send reinforcements to Latakia.[54]

On 29 March, Al-Nab’in was once again reported under rebel control, but with fighting continuing in its outskirts.[55] Al Aan TV claimed that 10 pro-government fighters were killed in an attempt by the Army to recapture Observatory 45. It also reported the arrival of Hezbollah fighters in the area. According to a local activist, the FSA had set up a joint operations room under command of Brigadier General and FSA Chief of Staff Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir to support the rebel offensive.[56]

On 30 March, the SOHR reported that several attempts by the Army to retake areas in northern Latakia had been repelled by the rebels. However, the military was bringing more reinforcements from the coastal city of Tartous to try and stem the rebel advance.[57]

By 31 March, thousands of refugees reportedly fled to Latakia city, while a rising tension between the Armenian-Christian-Alawite community and the Turkmen community was reported.[58] At this time, Barnabas Aid stated 80 Christian civilians were killed and thousands more displaced after rebel fighters captured Kasab.[59] According to the SOHR, 1,052 fighters from both sides had been killed and wounded since the start of the offensive.[60] Among the dead were 27 Army officers and 56 foreign rebel fighters.[61]

During the day, government forces made an attempt to advance towards Kasab as the rebel offensive started to stagnate[62] and state TV made a live report from near the hilltop of Observatory 45 claiming the Army had recaptured it.[63] The SOHR confirmed the Army made progress in the area[64] and stated that government troops managed to install multiple rocket launcher on Observatory 45, but fighting was continuing in the vicinity of the hillside.[65] Meanwhile, rebels hit the pro-government village of Bahloulieh with seven Grad missiles. Other pro-government villages were also shelled with mortars.[57] The Turkish Army stated that they had returned fire after mortar shells and a rocket struck areas near the town of Yayladagi.[66]

After midnight, government troops ambushed rebels in the forest around Observatory 45 resulting in a number of deaths among opposition fighters.[67]

On 1 April, Ahmad Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, visited the front-line in the Kasab region. The SOHR also denied State TV's claim that the Army had recaptured Observatory 45, stating that clashes are still ongoing over the hilltop.[68]

On 2 April, according to the SOHR, the rebels reached the perimeter of al-Badrousiya village where violent clashes took place amid new Army reinforcements in that area.[69] Opposition activists in Latakia claimed that the rebels repulsed an Army attack on Observation Post 45. During the fighting for the hill, the Moroccan leader of the Harakat Sham al-Islam rebel group, Ibrahim bin Shakran, was killed.[70] A local rebel commander was also killed in other clashes, while "dozens of bodies" of pro-government fighters were reportedly bussed to the city of Tartous, according to opposition activist's claims. An opposition TV station also claimed that 11 Hezbollah fighters were captured in an ambush by rebels in the province, but this report couldn't be verified.[71]

On 3 April, according to the SOHR, rebels managed to regain control over the buildings of Observatory 45 after they were captured by pro-government fighters during the night. At least 11 rebels were killed in the fighting, while at least 20 pro-government fighters were killed and wounded.[72] But later activists reported that government forces, supported by the NDF, had managed to reach the peak of Observatory 45 and clashes ensued with opposition fighters, including Jabhat al-Nusra.[73] The SOHR also updated the past day's rebel death toll to 20.[74]

On 4 April, the SOHR reported that 64 rebels, including 40 foreign fighters, and 35 government soldiers were killed in fighting for Observatory 45 over the previous two days. 50 soldiers were also wounded[75] and among rebel fatalities, beside the leader of Harakat Sham al-Islam, was the group's Egyptian military commander, Abu Safiya Al-Masri.[76] Fighting was continuing around Observatory 45 with mutual bombardment from both sides,[77] while the the Syrian Army’s chief of staff, general Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, visited government forces on top of the hill at the post.[78] The Turkish Army fired shells into Syria, responding to six shells that landed in Yayladadi.[79]

ReactionsEdit

Foreign reactionEdit

  • Flag of Armenia.svg Armenia - President Serzh Sargsyan made a press statement at the World Forum Convention Center in The Hague (Netherlands) expressing his deep concern over the events in Kessab, remembering that the Armenian population of Kessab had experienced exile and deportation in April 1909 and in 1915 (during the Armenian Genocide), making a parallel with the 2014 situation: "The third deportation of Kessab Armenians today is a serious challenge to ethnic minority rights protection mechanisms of the 21st century." He also thanked the Syrian authorities for the steps being taken to protect the Armenians in Kessab.[80]
  • Flag of Canada.svg Canada - Andrew P. W. Bennett, Canadian Ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom stated: "Canada is deeply concerned by the recent attacks by al Qaeda affiliated armed groups on the ancient Armenian town of Kessab in the Latakia district of northern Syria during which Armenian churches were reportedly desecrated and Armenians driven from their homes...We stand determined that the perpetrators be brought to justice for such acts and to stem the rising tide of sectarian violence.".[81][82]
  • Flag of Artsakh.svg Nagorno-Karabakh - David Babayan, Spokesman for the President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said that Turkey continues its anti-Armenian policy, in particular in Kessab: "Through subversive attacks, Turkey tries to make Armenians leave Syria and aims to liquidate the Armenian community of Syria." He also stated that while it would be preferable for Syrian Armenians to remain in Syria and preserve their communities there, Nagorno-Karabakh would be ready to accept and welcome any refugees.[83]
  • Flag of the Chechen Republic.svg Chechnya - Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, condemned the attack on Kesab and accused Turkey of assisting terrorists and expressed his condolences to the ethnic Armenian victims. He said of the terrorists: "The official data says the attack on Kesab was carried out by al-Qaida militants affiliated with the so-called al-Nusra Front and Islamic Front. I am stating herein bindingly that these terrorists have nothing in common with Islam and cannot be called Moslems." Kadyrov also accused the U.S. and European countries of remaining silent on the attack and accused NATO members of contributing to it: "These terrorists have been reared, fostered and armed by the West and trained by secret services of NATO countries. They are fulfilling a task to ruin Syria and weaken the Islamic countries. And where’re the European and American democracies and why are the keeping their mouths shut? Why are they pumping hundreds of millions of dollars, weaponry and specialized to the thugs, who oppose the legitimate government in Syria and kill women, the elderly, and children? How many more Syrians should die so that NATO countries stopped supporting the terrorists?"[84]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Syrie: combats féroces autour d'un point de passage avec la Turquie
  2. Lattakia province
  3. Syrian rebels slowly advancing in Latakia
  4. 4.0 4.1 24 killed as rebels fight to take Syria border post
  5. Lattakia province
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lattakia province
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Kassab falls to Syrian opposition gunmen
  8. Rebels battle for Syria border post near Mediterranean
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Syrian troops and rebels clash near Turkish border
  10. 10.0 10.1 Syria fighting rages in Assad's home province
  11. Syrian rebels seize strategic hill near Aleppo: NGO
  12. 12.0 12.1 Third day of fighting at Syria-Turkey border crossing
  13. More than 20 martyrs and the continued clashes in the countryside of Lattakia
  14. Turkey downs Syria warplane on border
  15. Syria says Turkey shoots down Syrian warplane
  16. Turkey shoots down Syrian regime plane after violating airspace, PM confirms
  17. Turkey shoots down Syrian plane it says violated air space
  18. Opposition forces seize multiple villages in Latakia
  19. Provide for regular troops in the countryside of Lattakia
  20. Syrian paramilitary commander killed in Latakia
  21. Islamic battalions kills the NDF leader "Hilal Al-Assad" in Lattakia countryside
  22. Cousin of Syria's President Assad reportedly killed by rebels
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Rebels seize border village as regime warplanes bomb frontier
  24. Syrian forces battle rebels near Turkey border crossing
  25. Syrian Rebels Capture Town Near Turkish Border
  26. Reports cite 80 dead in Kessab; Churches desecrated
  27. Pro-Assad THKP/C leader reportedly killed in clashes with Syrian opposition
  28. Mihraç Ural Suriye'de öldü iddiası!
  29. Ural Maharaja: I'm not dead
  30. 30.0 30.1 Syria rebels launch northern offensive after heavy losses
  31. 31.0 31.1 Syria rebels take coastal village in Al Assad heartland — NGO
  32. 32.0 32.1 Free Syrian Army marches on to Lazkiya
  33. Syrian army ousts militants from border town of Kesab
  34. Clashes are taking place in Kessab-Shahan Kantaharian
  35. 35.0 35.1 Activists: Syrian rebels seize coastal area
  36. 36.0 36.1 Violent clashes in the countryside of Lattakia
  37. 37.0 37.1 Over 500 rebels killed in Syria's Latakia battles
  38. Violent clashes in the countryside of Lattakia
  39. Agaydada prominent Saudi Abdullah Mahiseny speaking from the top of the observatory 45
  40. Syrian missile system "harasses" Turkish F-16 jets: statement
  41. Syrian Rebels and Army Clash Over Coastal Town
  42. Fierce fighting raging in Syria's Latakia
  43. 43.0 43.1 Syria forces in heavy counterattack on rebels in Latakia
  44. Syrian rebels battle deeper into coastal province
  45. Syria complains to the UN over Turkish "aggression"
  46. Activists: Syrian warplanes bomb rebels in Latakia
  47. Clashes continue in Lattakia countryside
  48. 48.0 48.1 Syrian forces regain control over highlands on border with Turkey
  49. Activists: Syrian warplanes bomb rebels in Latakia
  50. Regime fights back against rebel gains in Latakia
  51. Hot battles continue in surrounding of Samra village
  52. Head of the military intelligence in Latakia province escaped after being surrounded
  53. more than 150 regular forces killed in Lattakia countryside
  54. Syrians rally in support of rebels’ coastal offensive
  55. Continuing clashes in Rural Damascus and Latakia
  56. Ten regime fighters killed while trying to capture Observatory 45
  57. 57.0 57.1 Regime tries to rally on coast after taking Qalamoun villages
  58. Fear and loathing descending on Latakia
  59. Syrian Islamists Kill 80 Christians, Displace Thousands More
  60. More than 1000 killed and wounded in the clashes in Latakia
  61. Syrian army pounds rebels in Assad's home province
  62. CHRONICLE MAP UPDATE
  63. Turkey fires into Syria after shelling damages mosque
  64. Shelling and clashes in Latakia and Hama clashes South Mork
  65. Syrian army retakes key post in Latakia
  66. Turkish military fires into Syria after rocket hits mosque
  67. Shelling and clashes in Latakia
  68. Syria opposition says chief visits Latakia
  69. Reef Latakia witnessing violent clashes and arrival of reinforcements
  70. Abu Ahmad al-Maghrebi (Ibrahim Bencheqroun), un vétéran du Jihad mort en Syrie | Jihad veteran killed in Syria
  71. Violence flares around Damascus
  72. استعادة مقاتلون من شام الاسلام السيطرة على مباني بالمرصد45
  73. Battle for Latakia
  74. Fighting rages in Syria's Latakia: activists
  75. A previous prisoner in Guantanamo killed during clashes in Latakia
  76. The death of the commander of the movement Cham Islam and his deputy during clashes with regime forces
  77. Clashes continued in the countryside of Lattakia
  78. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named chief
  79. Rebels take northern town on main highway
  80. "Serzh Sargsyan makes press statement on Kessab in The Hague". Panorama.am. 25 March 2014. http://www.panorama.am/en/politics/2014/03/25/president-kessab-statement/. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  81. Canada Concerned by Attacks on Armenian Town in Syria International.gc.ca, 25 March 2014
  82. Canada Concerned by Attacks on Armenian Town in Syria News.gc.ca, 25 March 2014
  83. "Babayan: Through subversive attacks, Turkey tries to make Armenians leave Syria". Panorama.am. 25 March 2014. http://www.panorama.am/en/current_topics/2014/03/25/d-babayan/. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  84. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_04_01/Chechnyas-President-condemns-attackers-on-Syrian-town-of-Kesab-3472/

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