Syria’s exiled opposition chief Ahmad Jarba visited Latakia province Tuesday, amid a rebel offensive against the heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s clan and his Alawite sect, his office said.
“The president of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad Jarba visited the Jabal Turkman… and Jabal Akrad” areas of Latakia, the opposition chief’s office said in an email.
Both Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkman have been under opposition control for many months, but all the rest of coastal Latakia province has until recently been squarely under regime control.
Then, some 10 days ago, rebels launched a major offensive and overran several government positions, mainly Kasab on the border with Turkey, taking over a frontier crossing.
Amateur video distributed by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground, showed Jarba seated with what appeared to be local rebel commanders in a house that was said to be in Latakia province.
He did not speak in the video.
But rebel commander Malek al-Kurdi spoke on behalf of the operations room for Latakia: “We have hope in this meeting that we are in a historic moment… of the beginning of the final phase of our liberation in the coast and in the whole of Syria from Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”
According to Jarba’s office, his visit was “to the people and the fighters… and to all the fronts in Jabal Turkman, from Kasab and Al-Sawda, to all the areas surrounding Observatory 45”.
The visit comes a day after Syrian state television said the army recaptured Observatory 45, a strategic hilltop — a claim contested by activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based Observatory on Tuesday said clashes have continued to rage over the hilltop.
Jarba’s office also said the opposition chief held meetings with members of the rebel operations room for Latakia, and that he stressed “the need for real support” for the opposition fighters in the province.
Jarba also said “the Coalition has provided assistance to (fighters on) the front”, according to his office.
The visit comes a day after opposition forces fired Grad rockets at the Bassel al-Assad airport for the first time.
The civilian facility is named for a deceased brother of the president and is near the town of Qardaha, the Assad clan’s ancestral home.
According to the Observatory, neither the army nor the rebels made any fresh advances Tuesday.
More than 300 fighters on both sides have been killed in the clashes there.
Syria’s conflict is now in its fourth year. It has killed more than 150,000 people.