Rebels hit Assad close to home
Syrian opposition fighters aim to conquer Qardaha, Assad’s birthplace; opposition leaders call for Eid al-Fitr truce
Michael Bassin is a founding member of the Gulf-Israel Business Council, a co-founder at ScaleUpSales Ltd, and the author of "I Am Not a Spy: An American Jew Goes Deep In The Arab World & Israeli Army."
Syrian rebels fighting along the coast near Latakia have announced they are only 20 kilometers outside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s birthplace of Qardaha. Assad’s forces have been gaining momentum against the opposition in the past month due to an influx of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters and support, but a new rebel surge is threatening Assad’s Alawite strongholds, Arab media reports.
The London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that “a rebel offensive that began three days ago is ripping apart the Alawite heartland, forcing hundreds of villagers to seek refuge near the sea.” The rebels have killed over 200 Alawite supporters and openly state their intention to conquer Qardaha, which they believe will mark a turning point in the fight against the regime.
“The goal is access to Qardaha,” said Ahmed Abdel-Qader, an Islamist rebel fighter. “The Alawites believe they can destroy Syria and remain immune from revenge. They will see they are anything but.”
Many key international figures have expressed concern that members of the Alawite ethnic group will be slaughtered en masse if the rebels ever successfully conquer their territory. Since the 1960s, the country has been ruled with an iron fist by Alawites who seized power by gaining status in the military.
Despite the rebels’ desire to see the Assad regime fall into the annals of history, the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat states that representatives of the Syrian coalition have called for a ceasefire in honor of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and begins on Wednesday night.
A spokesman for the Syrian opposition based in Istanbul said it was an important religious duty to refrain from fighting during the holiday and that Assad’s removal from power was imminent.
“Assad tops the list of hated dictators,” he said. “He sends his troops to massacre civilians and cannot stay in power. Refrain from fighting during Eid to obey the will of God.”
Since the Syrian opposition is heavily splintered and the main leadership resides in neighboring Turkey, it is unclear if this call will be heeded. Assad’s forces are unlikely to stop their assaults on rebel strongholds.
Despite the setbacks of the past few days along the coast, the Dubai-based media network Al-Arabiya notes that the Syrian military gained major ground in the past month. Assad has expressed confidence that, just as his forces re-conquered the lost city of Homs they will re-conquer other parts of the country.
In fact, the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Assad even sent a personal letter to Ayatollah Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, to thank him for his country’s support.
“There is great will between our two countries to fight the axis of resistance,” reads a quote from Assad’s letter. “We are confident of victory thanks to our steadfast allies such as Iran.”
Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al-Haqi conveyed Assad’s message personally in a meeting with Khameini on Tuesday.
“Tens of thousands of terrorists have come to Syria from over 29 countries,” Al-Haqi explained. “We are determined to combat terrorism and eradicate its roots, though we know it will not be achieved quickly.”
“The terrorists move from one area to another all the time. They came to Syria to destroy the infrastructure and are being funded by the European Union and Saudi Arabia. These terrorists have a terrible nature and must be defeated for the greatness of Syria to return.”