Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Large numbers of Syrian Alawites have fled their villages along the Syrian coast after opposition forces seized 11 villages and kidnapped a prominent Alawite cleric on Monday.
According to eyewitness accounts, several Alawite families are fleeing their villages to Latakia on a daily basis, where they are being sheltered in public schools, raising fears of sectarian violence among Alawite Latakians, particularly as reports indicate that most of the rebel fighters belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A video posted on YouTube shows several Alawite families fleeing their villages for safety. According to activists, the pro-Assad National Defense Forces as well as members of Popular Committees militias deployed in the villages dropped their arms as Islamist fighters approached.
Fear and anxiety surfaced among the residents of Latakia, who vary between Alawites, Sunnis as well as a Christian minority, following a period of relative calm since the Syrian crisis escalated more than two years ago.
Sources from the city informed Asharq Al-Awsat: “A group of Shabeeha militants headed a few days ago to one of the mosques in the Sunni-dominated district of Al-Sulaiba threatening worshippers at Tarawih prayer that they would be murdered unless Sheikh Ghazal returns to his family.”
The city of Latakia is viewed as Assad’s stronghold given its strategic location along the Syrian coast, as well as its population, which includes a large proportion of pro-Assad Alawites. Nevertheless, due to the increasing number of Syrians fleeing the embattled city of Aleppo as well as Homs, Latakia’s Sunni residents are now reported to outnumber Alawites.
Although Syrian opposition sources had denied any human rights violations have been committed against civilians, pro-Assad websites have released a list of more than 100 Alawite civilians, including children and women, who have allegedly been kidnapped by forces affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, a member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Michel Kilo, said: “The battle in the villages of Latakia should be directed against the regime not the Alawites,” adding, “Alawites are not responsible for the regime’s atrocities and violent behavior.”
Kilo urged the FSA battalions to hold to their “noble convictions and values and refrain from hatred and vengeance.”
Kilo, a native of Latakia, denied claims that the rebels fighting along the coast belong to the ISIS, stressing that this “epidemic has not spread to the villages of Latakia yet,” in a reference to radical Islamist Jihadists.