Moderate Syrian opposition groups repelled Russia-backed regime forces and Shiite militias from villages located in the Turkmen Mountain region and seized parts of northwestern Syria Friday night.
Dismissing reports from Russian media that claim regime and Shiite militias occupied all Turkmen villages in the area, opposition fighters gained control of the town of Ein Eisa, the Burj al-Hayat area and the village of al-Shahroora after clashes on Friday.
Abu Khalid Ghandour, a leader in the Coastal Brigade, confirmed the development in the strategic area near the Turkish-Syrian border.
According to reports from Russian media outlets late Thursday, regime forces and Shiite militias seized eight villages after intense clashes with Turkmen militants and pushed them to the east and north toward the Turkish-Syrian border area.
However, a Turkmen official denied the incident and said there are still three villages that the Turkmen forces still have.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Syrian Turkmen Assembly Chair Emin Bozoğlan said they have still three villages and continue to fight despite the circumstances. "Our brothers keep fighting. Russia-backed regime forces took a toll on the Turkmens with airstrikes and drones. The damage is substantial. We are waging this war in great difficulties," he said.
Stressing the Turkmen Mountain region's strategic importance for Turkey's national security, Bozoğlan said: "[A]wareness of the issue must be increased. Logistics and humanitarian aid continues. Turkey needs to act."
The population in the northern parts of rural Latakia, known as Bayırbucak, is predominantly Turkmen. The population has suffered from constant Russia-backed regime attacks since November 2015, causing thousands to seek refuge in Turkey's neighboring Hatay province. Turkmens are a Turkish speaking community in Syria and Iraq where they live alongside large Arab and Kurdish populations. The Turkmen community, which includes both Sunnis and Shiites, shares close cultural affinities with the Turks in Turkey.
Thousands of Turkmens who left their villages fled to Yamadi near the Turkish border and spent the winter in makeshift tents but have now started to flow to the east with the regime occupation.
Regime mortar shell falls on southeastern townTwo mortar shells believed to have been fired by Syrian regime forces fell on the Yayladağı district of the southeastern province of Hatay Friday morning.
During clashes between Turkmen groups and regime forces in the Bayırbucak region across the border, two mortar shells from the engagement zone fell in the Görentaş neighborhood. No casualties were reported.
Border units fired in retaliation, media reported.