AMMAN: The north Latakia town of Salma, the gateway into the rebel-held Jabal al-Akrad mountain range, fell to the regime due to a “lack of available fighters,” an intense Russian bombing campaign and internal disputes over the priority of different fronts, rebel commanders told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
Rebel leaders chose not to send reinforcements to Salma, a mountain stronghold under rebel control since July 2012 but surrounded by regime forces for the past few months.
“We requested many times that the other brigades send reinforcements to the Latakia coast front,” said Ali al-Halfawi, Ahrar a-Sham spokesman for the Latakia coast region, but northern rebels “are giving priority to the Aleppo front because of the importance of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.”
Regime forces in western Aleppo province launched a ground and air campaign on Monday to capture Bab al-Hawa, rebel controlled Idlib’s only border crossing with Turkey, Syria Direct reported.
Rebels in the north are not “spineless,” but “simply made an error in ordering their priorities,” the Victory Army’s lead jurist, Dr. Abdullah Muheisani tweeted on Tuesday in response to social media attacks that rebels abandoned Salma.
Lacking manpower and facing “fierce shelling,” rebels in Salma, including fighters from the First and Second Army of the Coast, Ahrar a-Sham, Ansar a-Sham, Feilaq a-Sham and Jabhat a-Nusra, could not hold out long after regime forces encircled the mountain city from three sides.
“We tried as hard as we could to remain steadfast in the face of the fierce shelling, but when we could not hold out any longer, we began to withdraw to spare the fighters’ lives,” said Abu Mohammed al-Ladiani, an Ansar a-Sham spokesman.
Despite their weak numbers, rebels from Salma claim they could have held the city if it had not been for the Russian bombing campaign.
“Over the past 48 hours, Russian warplanes conducted more than 200 air strikes on Salma alone,” said Halfawi.
“The regime used a ‘scorched-earth’ policy to clear the area,” citizen journalist Ammar Ibrahim told Syria Direct from the Latakia countryside.
Nearly all of Salma’s few thousand residents, many of whom were the families of fighters manning the opposition’s front lines, fled to camps for internally displaced Syrians lining the Turkish border.
Those camps “are in greater danger now because they are not sheltered from Russian bombing,” said citizen journalist Ibrahim.