Syrian civil war: Assad's forces recapture rebel-controlled town, Rabia, with Russian help

The town is the last major rebel stronghold in the north western Latakia province

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The Independent Online

Syrian government forces have seized back control of a town which has been in rebel hands for four years.

State television has said the town of Rabia was overrun by the Syrian army and “popular defence” forces, with the help of Russian air strikes. 

The town - which is eight miles from the Turkish border - was the last major rebel stronghold in the north western Latakia province. 

The head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces surrounded the town on three sides within 48 hours after occupying the surrounding area. 

The loss of the town - which was controlled by al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra - threatens the rebels' supply lines from the north, the Observatory said.

A Syrian army commander said they would now use Rabia as a base for a new assault on the neighbouring Idlib province. 

He said: "In the coming weeks, we will be able to announce that all of Latakia - city and province - is free from armed groups".

It comes just weeks after the nearby town of Salma fell into government hands on 12 January as a result of a renewed military assault with Russian and Hezbollah assistance. 

The recapture of Rabia and Salma is one of the most significant advances Syrian government forces have made since Russia started airstrikes in September last year. 

The Observatory estimates their airstrikes have killed more than 1,000 civilians - including 200 children. 

Additional reporting by Reuters