BEIRUT - Islamist rebels captured a village on Syria's Mediterranean coast for the first time and battled to hold territory abutting the nearby Turkish border taken from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, activists said on Tuesday.
Video footage showed six fighters holding the black banner of the Ansar al-Sham brigade on a rocky beach, a symbolic rebel victory in the coastal province of Latakia that has been an Assad stronghold throughout three years of conflict.
"This is the first area of coast in Syria to be liberated," said an activist who used the name Abu Bakr, referring to the beach and nearby village of Samra.
Latakia and neighboring Tartous provinces together form the Mediterranean heartland of Assad's minority Alawite faith and have remained loyal to him as he battles mainly Sunni Muslim rebels in a civil war which has killed more than 140,000 people.
After months of setbacks in central Syria, Islamist rebels launched an offensive on Friday into the Latakia region, taking the border crossing and the Armenian Christian village of Kasab.