Alawites flee Syrian rebel offensive near Mediterranean: ‘Tremendous fear of atrocities’

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NICOSIA — Syria’s ruling Alawite minority has been evacuating
villages amid a Sunni rebel offensive along the Mediterranean coast.

Opposition sources said thousands of Alawites fled their
communities along the Mediterranean Sea in August.
_69129968_syria_aleppo_latakia_feb13The sources said the Alawites have flooded cities protected by the regime of President Bashar Assad, particularly the provincial capital of Latakia.

“There is tremendous fear of atrocities among the Alawites,” a source said.

The Syrian opposition has acknowledged that the rebel offensive was deteriorating into a sectarian campaign that targeted civilians. They cited
the abduction of Alawites as well as the killing of Sunnis.

“Alawites are not responsible for the regime’s atrocities and violent behavior,” Michel Kilo, a member of the opposition Syrian National
Coalition, said.

The rebels, led by Al Qaida-aligned militias, have seized at least 11 villages in early August in the first major offensive since February 2013. The sources said most of the fighters were linked to the new Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, a rival to Al Nusra Front for the Defense of the Levant.

“Many of these fighters have come over the last three weeks, equipped and well-trained,” the source said.

The sources said the Sunni offensive has overwhelmed Assad forces in
Latakia, which contains a large Iranian and Russian military presence. They
said units of the new National Defense Forces as well as the Popular
Committees were fleeing and in some cases abandoning their weapons and
blending in with the civilian population.

On Aug. 10, the Syrian Air Force attacked rebel units in the Latakian
village of Salma. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said up to 20
people were killed in the air strikes.

The rebel campaign has been deemed the largest in the Latakia province,
the heart of the Alawite-ruled enclave in Syria. The enclave included such
strategic facilities as the naval ports of Latakia and Tartous, operated by
the Russian Navy.

The sources said the Syrian Army has failed to repel the Al
Qaida-aligned forces. They said a major part of the army has been deployed
around such rebel strongholds as Aleppo and Homs.

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