Reuters reports: For three years, residents of Syria’s Mediterranean provinces have watched from their coastal sanctuary as civil war raging further inland tore the country apart, killing tens of thousands of people and devastating historic cities.
But a three-week-old offensive by rebel fighters in the north of Latakia province, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority, has brought the battle ever closer and shattered that sense of relative security.
Rebels are now fighting in the hills overlooking the sea, bringing the country’s main port of Latakia within their range – rocket-fire killed eight people in one barrage on the city a month ago – and Syria’s coast feels under real threat.
“They can erase us, even those of us who support them,” said a young Alawite woman as she drank coffee with her fiance in a Latakia cafe, 50 km (30 miles) south of where have rebels seized their first toehold on Syria’s coast, by the Turkish border.
While many Alawites, roughly 10 percent of Syria’s 23 million people, have actively supported Assad, others sympathized with the popular revolt against him in 2011 but now fear reprisals from his mainly Sunni Muslim enemies.
Memories of a rebel offensive in August, when scores of Alawite villagers near Latakia were killed by radical Sunni Islamists and foreign jihadists, heighten tensions in the bustling streets of the city of 400,000. [Continue reading…]