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Russia’s Syria strikes hold both strategic, symbolic importance

Syrian rebels are holding their ground in the south, but Russia is keeping the opposition in check.

BEIRUT — Russia's military deployment in Syria and ensuing strikes against rebel positions have made large swaths of territory off-limits to rebels. These areas include not only the Latakia region — known as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite bastion — but southern Syria as well, where experts and fighters told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the rebels’ advance toward Damascus has been purposely stalled by external players.

Russia has been building up its forces since July in the coastal region of Latakia. As 2,000 men were deployed starting in late September to a new air base near Latakia, the Russian air force took over Syrian skies, bombing Idlib, Homs and Hama — areas essentially under rebel control — as well as the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.

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