STUMPING, SYRIAN STYLE: Syrian National Coalition head Ahmad al-Jarba visited rebel positions in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province Tuesday after the Coalition offered fighters $500,000 to keep the Anfal battle alive amidst concerns that the opposition-in-exile is against opening the coastal front.
The regime-held coast “is one of the most dangerous areas” in Syria, Jarba, clad in a camouflage-patterned coat, told a gathering of rebels in an unnamed location. “It is a red line for the regime, and you have crossed that red line,” Jarba said.
The opposition supports the battle for Latakia, Jarba said.
“Anyone who believes there is pressure on [the Coalition] to halt the battle for the coast is delusional and mistaken,” Jarba said following a tour of rebel-held areas near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Al-Jarba’s visit comes nearly two weeks after rebel battalions led by Jabhat a-Nusra and Islamic Front member groups Ansar a-Sham and Ahrar a-Sham announced the “Anfal” campaign to seize regime-controlled territory in Syria’s northwestern coastland, the ancestral home of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
His comments come in response to repeated accusations by rebels and opponents inside the country charging that Syria’s opposition-in-exile has shied away from supporting rebel fighters in Latakia for fear that it would leave the opposition open to accusations of sectarianism.
“There’s been a shortage of reinforcements to this front,” said Latakia-based General Ahmad Rahal in comments to Syria Direct last week. “There are people who feel it’s not in their interests to support a battle there, based on the stated goal of protecting minorities.”
Rebels have claimed major gains since announcing the campaign in Latakia on March 20, chief among them controlling large swathes of the town of Kasab along the Syrian-Turkish border, including the last regime-held border crossing in northern Syria.
Al-Jarba’s visit comes as pro- and anti-Assad forces vie for control of the strategic Tower 45 base adjacent to Kasab, with regime forces claiming to have regained the site from rebels and opposition sources rejecting the claims.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported earlier this week that more than 300 regime and rebel fighters had died in the first 10 days of fighting in Latakia.
-By Mohammed Ali al-Haj Ali and Alex Simon on April 2, 2014