Syrian army routs rebels from Assad home province
Damascus: President Bashar al Assad`s troops drove rebel fighters out of his Latakia home province on Monday as UN inspectors began probing the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
As the UN team left their Damascus hotel for an undisclosed destination, Jordan said it was receiving US technical assistance to prepare for any possible chemical warfare in neighbouring Syria.
On the diplomatic front, top Russian and US officials are to meet in The Hague next week to discuss preparations for a long-delayed international peace conference on the 29-month-old conflict, Russia`s deputy foreign minister said.
"This meeting will take place in the middle of next week in The Hague," Gennady Gatilov told the Russian Interfax news agency.
Syria`s state news agency SANA, meanwhile, said the army recaptured a swathe of territory in northern Latakia, a province on the Mediterranean coast, including a remote mountainous region where rebels launched operations earlier this month.
"The army retook control of the Nabi Ashia mountain range and adjoining areas in the north of Latakia province," SANA quoted a military source as saying.
Rebels positioned in remote enclaves in Latakia`s mountains launched the "battle for the liberation of the Syrian coast" about two weeks ago.
Latakia is the ancestral land of the Assad clan and the hinterland of his minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Over the past two weeks, rebel forces -- mostly from Syria`s Sunni majority -- had seized several Alawite villages near Qardaha, hometown of Assad`s late father and long-time president Hafez al-Assad who is also buried there.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the army retook nine villages and military checkpoints that had been set up by rebels in the area.
"The army has made progress" in Latakia, said the Britain-based watchdog which relies on a wide network of medics and activists on the ground.
But a Syrian security force told AFP the army still had to recapture the Salma region, a strategic area along the border with Turkey that has been in rebel hands since the end of last year.
The Observatory said rebel fighters on Sunday shot down a military plane over Salma. "The pilot bailed out but was later captured, most likely by insurgents," it added.
The frontlines in Syria`s deadly war have stabilised in recent months, with Assad`s troops controlling the centre and the west, while rebels are deployed in swathes of the north and east.
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