Syrian rebel leader makes defiant visit to his troops in Assad heartland

Rebel fighters have swept through a number of villages in the region

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The Independent Online

The leader of the military wing of the Western-backed Syrian opposition has visited rebel troops fighting on the front line in President Bashar al-Assad’s heartland in a defiant and largely symbolic visit meant to boost the morale of rebel fighters.

General Salam Idris, the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), visited the province of Latakia on Sunday, it was revealed today. The coastal province is a stronghold of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

The SNC, which is the main conduit through which the West has supplied rebel fighters with non-lethal aid, posted a statement along with a video confirming General Idris’s visit. In the video, he is seen in civilian clothes with a shoulder holster and a pistol as he talks with rebel fighters.

During the video, he reveals that he travelled to Latakia to see the “important achievements and great victories that were made by our brother rebels in the coast”.

“We are here to confirm that the command is fully co-ordinating with the coastal command,” he added in the clip, which was posted on the SNC’s Facebook page.

Rebel fighters have swept through a number of villages in the region in recent days, gaining ground after a month of setbacks elsewhere in the country.

The offensive forced residents of the villages to flee their homes and left at least 60 civilians dead, activists said. The regime has since launched a counter-offensive to try to dislodge the rebels.

Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, rebels are attempting to extend the advances they have won in the north and west.

In the city of Deir el-Zour, near the Iraqi border, rebel fighters are engaged in battles to try to wrest control of key neighbourhoods from government soldiers.

Syria’s state-run news agency, Sana, said government forces  inflicted losses among “terrorists” in Deir el-Zour including foreign fighters, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian warplanes  had bombed rebel positions in the city.