Ahrar a-Sham: ‘Key to the coast’ at stake in Sahl al-Ghab battles

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The Victory Army battled regime forces in northwest Hama, Sahl al-Ghab villages and checkpoints on Wednesday, with an Ahrar a-Sham spokesman telling Syria Direct that the hills of the plains region “are the key to entering the coast.” The rebels are hoping to capture the Tel Awar and Tel Hamke hills, as they are “the key to entering the coast, while the regime seeks to control them in order to advance its defensive lines protecting its points on [Latakia’s] coast,” Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz told Syria Direct on Wednesday, referring to villages and hills in the west Idlib and northwest Hama countryside. “These are pivotal areas for each side to control.” Rebels took control of at least one checkpoint after targeting it with Grad missiles, Ibrahim Shamali, a correspondent with the Umayya Media Center in Sahl al-Ghab told Syria Direct on Wednesday. The checkpoint is one of several key obstacles for rebels along roads leading to the north of the largely regime-held Latakia province, Taftanaz said on Wednesday. The ultimate outcome of the current battles is still uncertain, as rebels continue an offensive that began this past April. Regime media confirmed the ongoing fighting on Tuesday, saying that better-trained, well-equipped regime fighting forces had relieved existing troops in the area, Anbaa al-Farisreported.