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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, June 21, 2018

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Over 500 rebels killed in battle with Syrian forces

In Syrian coastal Latakia province near the Turkish border

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DAMASCUS, Syria - At least 500 rebel fighters have reportedly been killed in a raging battle with President Bashar al-Assad's forces as the fierce fighting continued Wednesday in Syria's coastal Latakia province near the Turkish border.

Rebel fighters had seized a frontier crossing in Syria's northwestern province of Latakia near the Turkish border, triggering a fierce battle with the regime forces on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday.

The el-Watan newspaper published from Cairo said the clashes have continued since then, claiming the lives of over 500 rebels.

Most of the dead militants were Saudis and Chechens, according to the newspaper said. The newspaper said the rebels have failed to seize control of any areas that they have targeted, contrary to what they are claiming on media outlets.

But the observatory said the rebels have captured a hill strategically overlooking opposition-held areas of Latakia, the historic heartland of Assad's clan and his Alawite sect of Shia Islam.

According to the AFP wire service, the latest fighting raged around Kasab, home to the border crossing seized by rebels at the weekend, as well as the hill and Samra, also captured by rebels this week.

The wire service cited Omar al-Jeblawi, an activist on the ground, on saying that the army was retaliating with heavy shelling including air strikes near the Turkish border.

"There is heavy shelling on Kasab, using tanks and planes," Jeblawi told AFP by phone. Turkey backs the anti-Assad uprising that broke out in March 2011. The uprising has left some 140,000 people dead and forced millions to flee from their homes.

The Syrian Observatory said the army has deployed a large number of fighters to battle the rebels. Meanwhile, the al-Watan daily said the rebels were staging hit-and-run attacks.

It said a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden armored vehicle at the military observatory 45 site in Kasab, adding that the blast led to the killing of Colonel Samuel Ghannum, the officer in charge of the observatory site. Meanwhile, activists said fighters from an Al Qaeda splinter group bombed a large Shia Muslim shrine in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa Wednesday.

The mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Owais al-Qarni was once a destination for Shia Muslim pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq before it was taken over a year ago by Sunni rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) set off two powerful explosions at the mosque early Wednesday. more...

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