Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Violent clashes continued on Sunday in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia, with fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist groups battling government forces that responded with artillery and airstrikes.
Over the last three days, the Syrian Air Force has carried out airstrikes in an attempt to stem the progress of opposition fighters in the Latakia countryside and support army attempts to retake lost territory. The government was reported to have lost control in some rural areas of Latakia province following an opposition operation called “the Liberation of the Syrian Coast.”
Aerial and artillery bombardments have been targeting more than 10 opposition-controlled villages. According to activists, some of these areas are roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Qardaha, the hometown of president Bashar Al-Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that collates reports from opposition activists on the ground in Syria, said that violent clashes broke out Saturday night in the surroundings of Istrabah village, currently under opposition control.
Meanwhile, the FSA claimed that its fighters had been active in the provinces of Idlib and Rif-Dimashq, targeting convoys of government troops that were relocating to Latakia.
Elsewhere, violent clashes broke out yesterday in Deir Ezzor, where the Syrian Air Force renewed airstrikes in the Al-Hawiqah neighborhood and other parts of the city. Opposition forces reportedly made gains in the city, located in the east of Syria, on Friday, and were able to take control of some government facilities.
Activists estimated that at least 14 airstrikes took place on Friday, coinciding with government artillery bombardments that targeted the area around the old airport and Al-Hojana Street.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increase in the number of government soldiers being taken prisoner by opposition forces, which has risen to at least 10.
The area is the main access route to Iraq, from where logistical and military support is received by fighters on both sides of the conflict.
In response to reports of opposition gains around the city, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC) yesterday praised the “achievements” of the FSA soldiers in Deir Ezzor.
The SNC thanked those fighting on all fronts for “repelling Assad’s aggression against Syrians and [their] heroism in liberating the land of Syria,” adding that “victory will be an ally of the rightful, even though the road is hard.”
In a statement published yesterday, the organization also praised the “exceptional operation” in Deir Ezzor, which enabled the FSA to liberate the strategic area of Al-Hawiqah. Many sites and buildings of the “regime forces and their militias” had been located there, according to the statement.
The SNC further clarified: “Al-Hawiqah neighborhood is like a large island in the Euphrates river, and large parts of it have remained impregnable since the start of the revolution, despite aerial bombardments and barrages of rocket fire launched by regime artillery. The Free Syrian Army has been able to execute its plans and liberate the neighborhood.”
Elsewhere, in Aleppo, the Syrian Air Force targeted areas around the city’s central prison, which is being besieged by opposition forces.
In the nearby countryside, tensions remained between Islamist groups and Kurdish units. Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fought together against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in the Kurdish villages of Kordona, Doghraman, Zormkhar and Qanaya.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the arrest of 13 Kurdish citizens by an opposition checkpoint. The civilians were subsequently handed over to Jabhat Al-Nusra. The organization also “received news” about prisoners being tortured, pointing to “documentation of the deaths of 26 Kurds.”
In Damascus, there were conflicting accounts of a car bomb being detonated Saturday evening. Activists claimed that more than 40 members of Hezbollah and other militias loyal to Bashar Al-Assad were killed in an explosion in front of the security headquarters on Al-Ameen Street in the Shaghour neighborhood.
The Observatory reported that “an IED [improvised explosive device] planted on a car exploded by the Mi’thanat Al-Shahm area in the Shaghour neighbourhood.” It also stated that there had been “reports that several people, including 3 children, were injured as a result.”