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Syria Army Crushes Rebel Advance in Assad's Home Province

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A rebel fighter loads an anti-tank cannon during fighting against pro-government forces on June 1, 2014 on the outskirts of Syria's Mediterranean port city of Latakia. Syria on June 1 wrapped up campaigning for the June 3 presidential election expected to return Bashar al-Assad to power, a vote the opposition brands a 'parody of democracy'. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD TAHA MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images

Story by the Associated Press; curated by Zach Noble

BEIRUT (AP) — Government forces flushed opposition fighters from their last redoubts in northwestern Syria near the Turkish frontier on Sunday, capturing two villages and restoring government control over the border crossing, activists and state media said.

The military's advances fully reversed the gains rebels had made during their three-month campaign in Latakia province, the rugged coastal region that is the ancestral heartland of President Bashar Assad. The counteroffensive's success is the latest blow to the rebels, who have suffered a string of bitter recent setbacks in Syria's more than three-year-old civil war.

A rebel fighter loads an anti-tank cannon during fighting against pro-government forces on June 1, 2014 on the outskirts of Syria's Mediterranean port city of Latakia. Mahmoud Taha/AFP/Getty Images

Islamic rebel factions launched their surprise assault in Latakia in March, pushing south from the Turkish border to seize a string of villages in the lush, mountainous terrain. The military, nervous about an incursion in a bastion of government support, dispatched reinforcements to blunt the rebel advance and eventually turn the tide.

On Sunday, after months of bloody clashes, army troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite military group Hezbollah seized the seaside hamlet of Samra before also taking the village of Kassab and its adjacent border crossing, said Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said there were minor clashes still taking place west of Kassab, a predominantly Armenian village whose residents fled after the rebels seized control.

The Syrian army command issued a statement saying that it "restored security and stability to Kassab" after a series of operations.

Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which has a reporter embedded with Syrian troops, broadcast live footage from Kassab that showed a blown-out stone building with a smoldering wooden staircase. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms milled in the streets, and the rocky hills typical of the area could be seen in the background.

Engineering units were clearing mines and dismantling booby traps in Kassab, Syria's pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV said.

The government made dislodging rebels from Latakia a priority for strategic as well as symbolic areas. The coastal province is a stronghold of the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and losing control of even a portion of it was an embarrassment to the government.

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