FEAR AND LOATHING IN LATAKIA: Syrian parliamentarian Sharif Shahada refused to directly confirm or deny that rebels had killed Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Hilal al-Assad over the weekend in Latakia, telling Al Jazeera on Sunday the claim represents “wishful thinking and not realistic reporting.”
Shahada confirmed that Hilal al-Assad was killed, but says he “was martyred in a battle with a group sent by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.” Shahada said al-Assad was the the leader of Latakia’s National Defense Forces (NDF)—a semi-official, pro-Assad paramilitary force—rather than an officer in the regular army.
Al-Assad’s death appears to have come Sunday amidst heavy fighting in the town of Kasab along the Syrian-Turkish border, with rebels claiming to have seized control of large parts of the town, including the Kasab border crossing with Turkey.
The Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack on its website, declaring that it had targeted Hilal al-Assad and other NDF members. “The first rocket was fired around 7:15pm, followed by another five minutes later,” the statement reads, adding that the rockets targeted “a meeting of NDF leaders in March 8 Square.”
Shahada also commented on the Syrian warplane that was shot down by Turkish jets on Sunday following what Turkish officials said was a breach of Syrian airspace.
He refuted the Turkish account, echoing the Syrian government’s position that the plane was in fact over Syrian airspace. Syrian state news quoted government sources who called the incident “blatant aggression” andcharged thatAnkara’s actions proved Turkey’s support for terrorism in Syria.
“Everyone in Syria—whether those from the Assad family or others—is ready to defend Syria,” Shahada added.
-By Osama Abu Zaid and Alex Simon on March 24, 2014.