Free Syrian Army chief visits Assad’s home province

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The head of Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army visited the coastal province of Latakia, as opposition fighters battled regime forces in President Bashar al-Assad’s heartland, an activist told AFP on Monday.

Assad’s family hails from the coastal region of Latakia, which is also home to many members of the Alawite community he hails from, and has seen intense fighting in recent months.

General Selim Idriss “was in the Kafr Dalba area of Jabal al-Akrad” in the province on Sunday, Latakia-based activist Omar al-Jeblawi told AFP via the Internet.

Amateur video showed Idriss dressed in civilian clothing as he addressed a group of rebel fighters in the countryside.

In the video, Idriss said he was in Latakia to “look into the reality of the important successes and victories that our revolutionary brothers have achieved on the coastal front”.

“We are here today to reassure everybody that the... (FSA) General Command is coordinating completely and continuously with the leaders of the coastal front,” said Idriss.

“We will continue to work intensively on the coastal front,” he added.

Jeblawi said the FSA’s Turkey-based leadership supplied rebels fighting in Latakia with “some ammunition, but not enough”.

Idriss’ visit comes a week after rebels launched a “battle to liberate the coast”. They have since progressed and taken control of 11 majority Alawite villages, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog.

The area is particularly sensitive because it is home to a mixed population of Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority of Syria’s population, and members of the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The rebels have made limited progress in Latakia as the regime is firmly in control of the majority of the coastal province barring pockets of the Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal Turkman areas in the northeast.

But the gains they have made are symbolically important and have boosted morale, especially after a series of losses on other fronts in central Syria.

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