May 9, 2013
By Nuha Shabaan and Kristen Gillespie
AMMAN: Sunni residents in Latakia province are reportedly beginning to flee amidst fears that the government is planning a massacre.
“People are afraid and expecting displacement operations [targeting] Sunnis specifically,” said a spokesman for the independent Latakia Media Office (LMO) who asked that his name not be used for security reasons.
“Many families have been displaced because they were afraid of a repeat of [last week’s massacres] in Banyas and al-Beyda,” said Larisa, 23, a chemistry major and citizen journalist with the Local Council of Latakia, a pro-revolution civil society organization that posts news in and around the province online.
The rebellious neighborhoods in Latakia, Kinaines and Ali Jamal, have been locked down and surrounded by shabiha and regime forces that are stopping people at checkpoints, Larisa said, who requested that her last name not be used for security reasons.
“The reason for the fears is the unusual concentration of regime forces in Latakia City,” the provincial capital, said the Latakia Media Office spokesman.
Vans full of shabiha fighters have been driving around the provincial capital making arrests in the rebelling neighborhoods, Larisa said. “Latakia City is now full of walls and checkpoints,” an account confirmed by other activists.
Every day in the province there are clashes, shelling and arrests, says Maya Haidar, 23, an Alawite woman who says she has fled from her pro-government family and is now living amongst Sunnis in Jabal al-Turkman, outside Latakia City. “We face daily shelling here because the FSA controls it,” Haidar said.
By most independent accounts, the rebels are not adequately armed to take on the regime’s forces in Latakia City.
The FSA presence is largely in the mountains around Latakia City, such as Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkman, areas targeted for sustained attacks by the regime. On Thursday, the opposition Sham News Network reported that regime choppers dropped barrel bombs, oil drums stuffed with TNT, oil and chunks of steel, on the rural Latakia village of Akko.
A Syrian chopper flies above Salma on Thursday, according to citizen journalists, as the rebels on Jabal al-Akrad attempt to intercept it. Salma was a popular summer resort town that has been under regime bombing for months after some FSA battalions captured most of it. Salma is situated on a high mountain in Latakia province, where many Sunnis have sought shelter, fleeing from the arrests and killings in the city. Video courtesy of TheLattakiafree.
The pro-regime Latakia News Network reported on Thursday that “army units confronted armed groups in rural Latakia province, killing 9 rebels and injuring 23.” The network also reported arms warehouses being burned to the ground by the Syrian army.
“There is information that the regime will carry out a massacre in a nearby village in the coming days and claim the FSA is behind it,” the LMO spokesman said.
“We all know that the regime is trying to displace people from the coastal areas,” the spokesman said, an account frequently voiced by activists and the opposition.
Whether true or not, fears persist that Alawis have an agenda against Sunnis in Latakia by seeking to drive Sunnis out to create their own autonomous ethnic enclave. “They want people to desert their homes so they can take their places,” Larisa said. “Are we supposed to keep saying we reject sectarianism until they [Alawis] kill us all?”
Despite the Alawite-led regime targeting Sunnis, Maya Haidar says, the Assad government will not fall until Syrians of all sects who oppose him unite and focus on that goal.
“The entire coast of all sects must protest and stop these criminals – patriotism requires sacrifices,” Haidar says.