Rebels battle Assad army near Latakia

Hard-line rebels and the Syrian army fought fierce battles in Latakia province overnight close to President Bashar al-Assad’s ancestral home, the army and rebels said, after weeks of insurgent gains in the country’s northwest.

Rebels seeking to topple Assad have in the past sought to bring their four-year-long insurgency close to coastal areas in government-held Latakia, heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite community. An army source told state news agency SANA fighter jets hit insurgent hideouts in the northern Latakia countryside with “tens killed and wounded.” Latakia is the main port in Syria and along with the capital Damascus is one of the most important government-held areas in the country. The violence follows advances in neighboring Idlib province by the hard-line Ahrar al-Sham group and Syria’s al-Qaeda wing Nusra Front as well as other allied fighters. Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, said the Latakia battles started with an army offensive on Thursday, backed by local militias, aimed at pushing the insurgents out of the province in order to advance on captured areas of neighboring Idlib.