Rare rebel rocket attack on Syrian regime bastion kills 2

Rebel factions were taking up positions overlooking the city of Latakia and firing rockets before leaving for areas under their control, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The scene of a rebel rocket attack in Latakia, the provincial capital of president Bashar Al Assad's coastal heartland, which killed two people and wounded 14 others on August 13, 2015. Sana/Handout/AFP Photo
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BEIRUT // Two people were killed and 14 wounded on Thursday in a rare rebel rocket attack on Latakia, the provincial capital of president Bashar Al Assad’s coastal heartland, a monitoring group said.

It came as a two-day ceasefire between Hizbollah fighters and rebel groups in the northern town of Zabadani, as well as in the Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, was extended for another 48 hours.

Hizbollah and Syrian troops have been trying to fully capture the one-time rebel stronghold, near the border with Lebanon, for more than a month. A coalition of rebel groups retaliated by attacking Foua and Kfarya, where a large number of civilians have been trapped by the fighting.

In Latakia, rebel groups stationed around the city fired rockets into the centre and along the waterfront, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“[R]ockets fell on March 8 street, near the (Islamic authority) Dar Al Ifta building in the middle of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.

He said that rebel factions were taking up positions overlooking the city and firing rockets before leaving for areas under their control.

Syria’s official Sana news agency reported that “several people were wounded on Thursday morning when rockets fell on Latakia and caused material damage”.

State television channel Al Ikhbariya showed footage of a city street with several cars on fire, saying that it was the scene of the rocket attack.

Thick black smoke billowed out of the charred vehicles as a fire engine sped down the street and people hurriedly walked away.

The city has been tense following the alleged fatal shooting of a senior military officer by Suleiman Assad, a relative of the president, over a road rage incident last week. Around 1,000 people rallied this week, demanding the execution of Suleiman, who was arrested on Tuesday.

Four people were killed in a large blast in Latakia city on May 25, which some sources attributed to rebel rocket fire.

The Army of Conquest, a power rebel alliance that includes Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra, is edging towards Latakia province from Sahl Al Ghab, a strategic plain in the adjacent province of Hama.

The alliance is only two kilometres away from the regime’s regional military headquarters in the town of Jureen.

If the rebels manage to capture Jureen, they will be able to advance into the mountains of Latakia and bomb several communities from Mr Al Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The western coastal region of Syria has been largely spared of the worst of the violence that has wracked the country since an uprising that began in March 2011.

Many Syrians displaced by violence in neighbouring regions have taken refuge in Latakia province, while some businesses have moved to the area.

In Zabadani, negotiations were underway on Thursday to secure safe passage for Ahrar Al Sham and other rebel groups out of the city in exchange for allowing humanitarian aid and food to the besieged Foua and Kfarya, the Observatory said.

Activists say the ceasefire there was brokered with the help of Turkish-Iranian mediation. Turkey is a strong supporter of Syrian rebels fighting to oust Mr Al Assad while Iran is a key backer of the Syrian government.

Also on Thursday, regime air strikes on a rebel bastion east of Damascus killed 10 civilians, including three children and three women, the Observatory said.

The aerial raids on Arbin, part of the Eastern Ghouta region near the capital, occurred just after midnight, but some civilians were still stuck under the rubble on Thursday afternoon.

It was the second day of a fierce regime bombing campaign on Eastern Ghouta, which killed 37 civilians on Wednesday.

Government air attacks also killed civilians in the northwestern province of Idlib, according to the Observatory.

Six civilians, including a child, were killed in raids on the village of Kfar Oweid. Another seven civilians, including two children, were killed when regime aircraft bombed the Jabal Al Zawiya region.

* Agence France-Presse, Associated Press