The Syrian army has retreated to new defensive lines in a region of vital strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, seeking to avoid losses at the hands of advancing rebels, Reuters reported, citing a military source.
The insurgent advance into the Sahl al-Ghab plain in northwestern Syria has brought rebels including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to the eastern edge of mountains that form the historical heartland of Assad’s Alawite people, the news agency said.
The rapid advance so close to an area of such importance to Assad underscores the difficulties facing the army and the manner in which Syria is splintering, the report said.
Assad said last month the army faced a manpower shortage and had given up some areas in order to defend others of greater significance.
The rebels, well supplied and attacking in large numbers, had seized high ground in Sahl al-Ghab in an attack that began some two weeks ago, increasing the risk posed by rebel artillery and guided anti-tank missiles, the military source said.
“The army — to avoid losses and to avoid exposure to artillery and missiles from these areas — has taken up a second defensive line … It has strengthened its positions in this second defensive line,” the source said.
“At the end of the day, it is giving up positions in the interest of strengthening and fortifying a fixed defense line.”
“No army in the world wants to retreat, but it is not worrying. We can recover these positions and we have previously recovered them.”
The insurgents have advanced into Sahl al-Ghab from areas of the northwest seized from government control earlier this year during a series of setbacks that also saw Assad lose parts of the south and central Syria to an array of armed groups.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that tracks the war, estimates the amount of territory now held by Assad at a quarter of Syria. The government-held area includes cities where the bulk of the population still live.
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