While the Russian military has deployed heavy weaponry to the PKK-affiliated Syrian Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) in the western town of Afrin for the fifth time since November, Assad regime forces overran the last major rebel-held town in the coastal Latakia province on Sunday. The Russian-backed gains of the Assad regime and the YPG accelerating offensives on moderate Syrian opposition groups near Afrin are part of the YPG's plans to connect all the Kurdish cantons in northern Syria. With Russian help, not just from regime forces, which include thousands of Shiite militia from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, but also with YPG militants, they have dealt a heavy blow to Turkmens and other opposition groups.
The YPG, which received tons of weapons from both the United States and Russia, has recently formed an alliance, a new group called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The alliance, which includes mostly YPG militants, Syriac Christians and a few thousand people from lesser-known Arab groups, the Arab Euphrates Volcano and the Revolutionary Army among others, is interpreted by many analysts as an attempt to legitimize Washington's weapons transfer to the region, to ease Ankara's concerns. After the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) downed a Russian warplane, Moscow did not miss the chance to drop tons of ammunition to the YPG, and since then the group has made some gains on the ground with the help of Russian airstrikes, which have largely targeted opposition groups in the country, not DAESH.
Citing military sources, Syrian state television said Assad's "forces, in coordination with the popular defense [militia], seized control of the town of Rabia [in Latakia]." The town had been held by the opposition since 2012 and was controlled by a range of rebel groups including some made up of Syrian Turkmen, as well as the al Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rabia fell on Sunday after a steady regime advance that left the town surrounded. "In the past 48 hours, regime forces surrounded the town from three sides – the south, west, and north – by capturing 20 villages," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Abdel Rahman said that senior Russian military officials were overseeing the battle for Rabia and that Russian airstrikes "played an essential role" in the fight. With the capture of Rabia, regime troops are closing in on opposition supply routes through the Turkish border to the north, he added. Rabia's fall comes after government troops seized the strategic town of Salma on Jan. 12, following months of operations to capture it from the opposition, which had held it since 2012.
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