Syrian troops look to retake Kassab

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A sea landing by Syrian troops near Samra may mark the countdown for the recapture of Kassab.

In Syria, yesterday was not an ordinary day. It was, of course, an extension of the previous three years of bloodshed. But monitoring the general battle scene clearly points to three main flash points that unequivocally reflect the regional dimensions of the Syrian conflict and its danger to the region, from the Iraqi border to the border with Jordan and occupied Palestine in Daraa and Quneitra, all the way to Kassab on the Turkish border in Iskenderun.

The first flash point was the sea landing by the Syrian army near Kassab. The troops who landed on the shore solidified their positions, and that event may mark the start of the countdown to the so-called battle of Kassab.

In addition to this border scene, Aleppo and its countryside were also in a state of war. It seems that the Syrian army was able to thwart successive attack waves by armed groups, under leadership of rebels from the Caucasus, on several fronts.

The Syrian army has proceeded to consolidate its control over al-Ramouseh, secure its supply lines through Khanasser, to access the heart of the industrial city, recover the mills area and advance toward the neighborhood of al-Sheikh Saeed. Meanwhile, shelling by armed factions on Aleppo has killed more than 40 people and injured 100.

But the three border flash points took all the attention yesterday. In Samra, the last point on the border with Turkish troops, there was a first-of-its-kind sea landing by the Syrian army since the beginning of the war. In Albukamal, on the border with Iraq, Iraqi helicopters raided a fuel convoy heading to areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Ten days earlier, the Jordanian air force, for the first time, struck a convoy of Syrian gunmen on the Syrian-Jordanian border. The third flash point was in Quneitra, Daraa, in the far south, where opposition gunmen achieved progress.

The battle for Kassab-Samra

The “battle for Kassab” witnessed a military shift that may have major implications on the scene on the ground in the Latakia countryside and on the border with Turkey, which had opened its borders for a large and sudden attack by jihadists on Kassab 10 days before the Turkish elections, which took place on March 30.

As is well-known, the Syrian army was able, after hit-and-run battles, to solidify the battle lines within an area of 20 square kilometers [7.7 square miles] to acquire a direct line of fire less than 5 kilometers [3 miles] from the border. The army regained control of the strategic Observatory 45 and prevented a jihadist push to al-Badrosia. The army neutralized the Tshalma point and thwarted an attack toward the town of Qustul Maaf.

A source familiar with the military developments in Kassab said that in such a climate, and amid the declining enthusiasm of the attackers 40 days into their “suicidal” incursion from Turkish territory, things are at a stalemate.

As-Safir received information that Syrian forces have exploited the stalemate and transported a variety of commando forces from the Syrian army and its allies, after a careful study of the front and the battlefield conditions. The army solidified its hold on the sites and, after determining the priorities of the attack, then came the big surprise in the form of a sea landing near the village of Samra.

The source considered the surprise landing and the control of Samra yesterday to be as surprising as the ground offensive on Kassab on March 21 from inside Turkish territory, and which happened with obvious Turkish military support. The attack included gunmen crossing the border under Turkish artillery cover and a downing of a Syrian MiG jet.

Turkish media leaked that Syrian air defense batteries were for two weeks thwarting Turkish fighter jets from approaching or perhaps intervening in the course of the clashes, which were at a standstill. The standoff was a kind of a “slap” and a Syrian-Russian-Iranian response to Turkey’s role in Kassab. No less important was the Russian fleet passing through the Syrian coast between Tartus and Latakia.

The informed source said that the big “slap” came from the sea, with the Syrian military landing near the border without the Turks doing anything. Note that Samra, which directly overlooks the Mediterranean, was not an important strategic sea gateway for the gunmen, as was rumored at the beginning of the Kassab battle, because the Turkish sea and land have been open to them since the beginning of the Syrian war. Controlling Kassab at the time was a symbolic and moral achievement. But recovering it now would assert Syrian sovereignty on the last border point with Turkey and would be a retaliation to the Turkish slap in Kassab.

Syria said nothing about the size of the sea landing in Samra and only said that it was a lightning operation, that the gunmen have suffered heavy losses, that Samra’s police station was captured and that the Syrian flag was raised. The source pointed out that the effort during the past few days was focused on trying to cut the road between Kassab and Samra (especially in Tallat al-Sakhra and al-Nabain) where clashes took place during the past five days.

The source concluded by saying that if the battle continues and the army recovers Kassab and its surroundings, then that will have an effect on the context of the broader military and political conflict.

Also, according to AFP, Iraqi helicopters raided a convoy of eight tankers inside Syrian territory that were carrying fuel to ISIS in Anbar province.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Maan Saad said, “Army helicopters struck eight fuel tankers in Wadi al-Sawab in Albukamal in Syria. [The tankers] were trying to enter Iraqi territory. … At least eight people were killed in the operation. Those people were driving the tankers and trying to transport fuel to ISIS in Anbar province.”

Wadi al-Sawab lies near Syria’s Albukamal, which has a border crossing with the Iraqi city of Qaim (340 kilometers [211 miles] west of Baghdad). Albukamal is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra gunmen. Maan said, “There was no coordination with the Syrian regime. Our responsibility today is to protect our border and the border from the other side, because there is no protection from the other side.”

Regarding Quneitra province, the third flash point, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported: “Militant fighters have taken control of east Tal Ahmar” after about 20 days of controlling west Tal Ahmar, which is nearby. Last Thursday, the fighters took control of Tal al-Jabiya in the countryside of the town of Nawa in Daraa province, whose surroundings are witnessing fierce battles as the Syrian forces try to regain control of it.

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Found in: turkish-syrian relations, turkey, syria, security, border crossing
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