The Washington Post reports: Syrian rebels launched a major new offensive against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s northwestern Alawite heartland Sunday, claiming to have overrun a string of villages in the mountains overlooking the coastal port of Latakia.
At least 30 rebel fighters and government loyalists were killed in the fighting, in which the rebels used tanks and heavy artillery to advance to within 12 miles of the Assad family’s mountain home town of Qurdaha in the province of Latakia, according to activists and human rights groups.
The claims could not be independently verified, but videos posted by rebel groups on YouTube showed tanks firing on mountain villages and rebel groups raising their flags over captured government positions in villages belonging to members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect. The Latakia Coordination Committee said scores of Alawites had fled from the countryside into the city.
The push in Latakia comes as the rebels show signs that they are starting to recover from a string of recent setbacks that had triggered concerns among their regional allies that Assad’s regime may be poised to crush the 21 / 2-year-old revolt. Rebel commanders and opposition leaders say the concerns appear to have spurred fresh supplies of weapons to the rebels in recent weeks, though it is unclear who is supplying them. [Continue reading…]