Syrian conflict put Bashar al-Assad’s home village under threat
The Guardian in Beirut
Syria's civil war has edged closer to Bashar al-Assad's home village, with opposition groups mounting their second sustained attack on the area.
The push, entering its second week, has seen government troops rush to reinforce a coastal enclave near the president's ancestral home, Qardaha, and the port city of Latakia in the country's northwest, minutes from the Turkish border.
The area has proved impenetrable to opposition groups, which were repelled by a regime counterattack last August. That rebel attack led to the killing of around 200 civilians, an act labelled a war crime by Human Rights Watch.
Rebel groups, among them the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra, say they are trying to reach the Mediterranean coast, where they hope to open a supply line.
Regime warplanes continued to bomb opposition positions on Tuesday, two days after Turkey downed a Syrian jet it claimed had flown into its air space while bombing near the border.
Opposition groups have mounted several offensives in the north after ousting radical jihadist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq in Sham (Isis) over three months of brutal battles.
Isis had maintained a stronghold in the northern Latakia region, its influence spread into Aleppo, Syria's largest city. But the recent battles have seen the group retreat to the al-Bab town, just east of Aleppo.
The opposition now controls the Kassab border crossing to Turkey, and the Armenian Christian town of the same name.
Attacks on the Alawite areas to the east have been sporadic; but a cousin of the Syrian president, Hilal al-Assad, was killed on Sunday in a nearby village, apparently by a rebel rocket attack.