London, Asharq Al-Awsat -The situation remains tense in the Syrian town of Qardaha, where Republican Guards and security forces have intervened by force to stop clashes between the resident Alawite families. Earlier unconfirmed reports had indicated that Mohammed al-Assad, the founder of the Shabiha militia and the so-called ‘Sheikh of the Mountain’, had been killed in these clashes. However, an activist in Latakia has told Asharq Al-Awsat via Skype that the Shabiha founder “did not die; he is still in hospital and his condition is very serious”. The activist confirmed that President Bashar al-Assad is personally monitoring developments in Qardaha (the hometown and stronghold of the al-Assad family).
The activist quoted several sources as saying that the Khayyir and Uthman families have been asked to leave the town, in return for al-Assad’s pledge to pursue those responsible – from the al-Assad family – for the attacks on Khayyir and Uthman family members. He pointed out that the regime’s forces are carrying out large-scale arrests from all sides that participated in the clashes, which were renewed last Sunday.
The activist went on to say that “a demonstration was staged on Monday by those loyal to the President’s exiled uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, together with members of several Alawite families. The protestors began to voice their resentment towards al-Assad’s barbaric policy of suppressing the opposition; a policy that has started to pose a danger to the very existence of the Alawites in Syria, and not just to the regime. At the forefront of these protests were the Khayyir, Uthman, Kanan and Dib families. Although the demonstrators did not voice any slogans against the regime, they shouted ‘Qardaha has taken to the field’ and demanded that those responsible for killing the Alawites be held to account. Furthermore, tensions and anger increased on Monday with the arrival of bodies of Alawite officers killed in clashes in Deir al-Zour”.
The activist also provided new details about the reasons behind the outbreak of the crisis in Qardaha. He said: “What happened came as the result of growing fears among the Alawites that began to manifest openly about two months ago, about who would protect Qardaha in the event of the regime falling. The Alawites fear they will be the victims of massacres as a result of the barbaric practices carried out by al-Assad’s Shabiha against the opposition. Suspicions have also been raised about several families in Qardaha that have started to refuse to let their sons join the Shabiha. It is as if they are taking pre-emptive action to save themselves from the revenge acts that will definitely target the Shabiha forces after the regime’s downfall”.
Against this background, the activist explained that: “The situation exploded when ‘Sheikh of the Mountain’ Mohammed al-Assad was spending his evening in a coffee shop owned by Aref Khayyir on Saturday night. A verbal altercation broke out between the two over the fate of the regime. Aref Khayyir spoke of the need to convince al-Assad to hand over power and recognize that enough sons of the Alawite community have been killed already, rather than allow the entire community to perish. In response, Mohammed al-Assad claimed that Khayyir should not to have the audacity to criticize his leaders, and threatened anyone who opposed the President. Then a fist-fight broke out that soon descended into an armed brawl. Mohammed al-Assad was severely injured and taken to a hospital intensive care unit, whilst Firas Khayyir and Sakher Uthman were also injured. Following the coffee shop brawl, al-Assad’s Shabiha mobilized and launched attacks on Khayyir and Uthman family homes. Several Khayyir family members were injured and five of the Uthman clan were killed in the attack”.
The activist went on to say that: “Republican Guards and security forces then intervened, ended the clashes, and arrested those involved. However, hostilities were renewed on Sunday when explosives and light and medium weapons were used. Furthermore, angry demonstrations were staged on Monday as the bodies of two officers returned, one from the Adra family and the other from the Fadil family, after they had been killed in clashes in Deir al-Zour. They were among 26 Alawite military personnel who were killed in several areas of the country within the space of two days, and all their bodies were returned on Monday to the Alawite villages along the Syrian coastal region”.