Report: Damascus warns Alawites to flee capital as Syrian forces crumble under rebel offensive
Reports emerged Sunday suggesting that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has hit a breaking point and is struggling under extreme duress.
According to the Jeddah-based Okaz daily newspaper, a sister publication of the Saudi Gazette, Syria's Intelligence services have alerted various Alawite families in Damascus that it deems important to vacate their residences and arrive in Latakia in 48 hours.
The Alawite Sect's ancestral homeland, Latakia, which hosts Syria's premier port, has been the subject of a determined offensive by unified rebel and Islamist forces in recent days. On Friday, sources belonging to rebel groups boasted that their battles against the Syrian army were taking place in the highlands of Jabal al-Akrad, a range that includes some of the highest peaks in Syria.
A commander of the Ahrar al-Sham, a faction belonging to the rebel coalition fighting Assad's forces, claimed that "the capture of the peaks would put the Alawite villages in our firing range," communities that include Qardaha, the hometown of the Assad dynasty.
Meanwhile, other reports have also suggested that numerous Alawite officials belonging to the Syrian regime itself, including Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar, have fled across the border, making their way into Lebanon and to Beirut.
The same sources have also reported that Lebanese banks have observed the transfer of funds from bank accounts belonging to members of Bashar Assad's government.
The manpower behind the Syrian military has been significantly degraded in the four years of conflict that have ravaged the country. The war has claimed the lives of some 200,000 Syrian civilians and has, according to a senior American official from the New York Times, grinded down the Syrian army from 250,000 to 125,000 fighting men, many of whom simply deserted their posts.
In the wake of these losses, the regime has also appeared to have utilized chemical weapons in their struggle to deter and roll back rebel maneuvers. On Sunday 'Al Jazeera' reported claims by activist groups that on Friday a child was killed and 40 people were injured by a chlorine gas attack in the northern town of Saraqeb, near Idlib.
If true, the incident would be the second such attack since Wednesday, when the payload from an improvised barrel bomb, dropped from a government helicopter, is said to have deployed lethal gases among civilians.
Syrian forces have also come to rely on their Iranian sponsored Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, whose influence and fighting prowess in the conflict has arguably outshone that of Assad's own troops.
One expert, familiar with the inner workings of Syria, including the country's current internal power dynamic, told the New York Times of the growing influence of Hezbollah in the war-torn country.
Hailing from the Brookings Institute's Doha Center in Doha, Qatar, Charles Lister explained that Iran, via Hezbollah, is building “a state within a state in Syria — an insurance policy to protect itself against any future Assad demise.”
The Lebanese militia's local empowerment and increased combat prestige only emphasizes to what lows the Syrian army has sunk. One soldier, Ali, 23, told a reporter that his superior, a Syrian major, has complained that Hezbollah fighters are given more respect than a Syrian general and that while members of Hezbollah are fed meat and rice, Syrian soldiers are fighting on stomachs filled with stale bread.
Report and photo from: Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Report-Damascus-warns-Alawites-to-flee-...
Photo: Ahrar al-Sham Islamic rebel fighters stand beside tanks left behind by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, in Idlib (photo credit:KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)