BEIRUT: The head of the opposition-in-exile made a rare trip to Latakia province in Syria Tuesday, as violence claimed the lives of dozens of people around the country including at least 20 children, a leading monitoring group said.
Syria National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba met with rebels fighting Assad’s troops in the coastal province, including the recently captured Armenian town of Kasab.
Assad’s family hails from Latakia, the scene of a fierce 11-day battle in which rebel groups including the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front have made significant gains. So far, they’ve captured a border crossing with Turkey and a tiny slice of the coast that gives them access to the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition to Kasab, Jarba also toured Latakia’s rebel-held mountainous areas of Jabal al-Turkmen and Jabal al-Akrad, meeting with rebel commanders to assess the “latest plans and needs for the battle on the coast,” the coalition said.
The coalition’s military arm, the Free Syrian Army, is playing a supporting role in the campaign.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that regime airstrikes and artillery targeted a number of locations in northern Latakia, as clashes raged pitting government troops and paramilitaries against several jihadist and rebel groups.
The Observatory said Monday that more than 1,000 people have been killed or wounded since the rebel campaign began last month.
Also Monday, the regime claimed it had seized the key Observation Post 45, which overlooks some of the contested area, but Tuesday, both civilian activists and rebels released video footage of themselves at the site, denying that it had been taken.
Pro-regime social media, meanwhile, posted photographs of what it said were rebel corpses transported by truck in a neighborhood of the city of Latakia, as civilians looked on.
While precise casualty figures of the day’s fighting in Latakia were unavailable, government and rebel attacks in other parts of the country claimed dozens of lives, as the Observatory issued a separate statement estimating that more than 150,000 people had been killed during the uprising, now in its fourth year.
It said that in Aleppo and rural Damascus provinces alone, more than 40 people were killed, of whom half were children.
In the village of Jabaadin, north of the capital, a shell fired near a school killed 10 people, including six children, while clashes in the mountainous Qalamoun region raged.
The Observatory said two rebel fighters were killed in the fighting, while local activists said a rebel attack in the village of Ras al-Ain disabled a tank and killed a local commander from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside army soldiers in the campaign to retake the area and disrupt the rebels’ supply routes from Lebanon.In Aleppo province, the Observatory said that a crude barrel bomb dropped by helicopter on the Aleppo town of Maaret al-Artiq killed at least 31 people, including 9 children.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said terrorists, a term state media uses for rebels, fired mortars into a government-held district of Aleppo, killing five people and wounding 26 others. The Observatory also reported the Aleppo attack, saying that four adults and four children were killed. In Damascus, one person died and two were injured in separate mortar attacks on the capital’s districts of Zablatani and Abbasiyyin.
Also in Aleppo province, the Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) clashed with several rebel groups, which have been trying to oust the extremist militia from Syria.
The Observatory said several rebel groups – who are not affiliated with either the large Islamic Front alliance or ISIS’ Al-Qaeda rival the Nusra Front – announced that they were the only militias battling ISIS in the region, and that “the rest of the battalions and brigades have fled to Turkey,” while they have been receiving “no military assistance” to carry on the fight in the area.
The Observatory said fighting between Assad’s troops and the rebels was concentrated in several opposition-held suburbs of Damascus and the northern province of Aleppo, while clashes were also reported in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor and the southern province of Deraa.