Rebel chief in Syria visits Assad’s home region

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The commander of the Free Syrian Army, whose forces claim to be leading the insurgency but have been overshadowed by the gains of their tactical jihadist allies, has visited the coastal province that is home to President Bashar al-Assad, according to a video circulated by activists on Monday.

Anti government fighters who are not part of the Free Syrian Army, many of them from extremist brigades that are linked to Al Qaeda, have recently seized a number of villages in the mountains on the eastern side of Mr. Assad’s home province, Latakia.

The visit by the Free Syrian Army commander, Gen. Salim Idris, appeared intended to show that he and his fighters were also involved in the Latakia seizures as part of a new front in the civil war.

In the video, General Idris said that he was visiting the area to see the “accomplishments” of rebels and to rebut accusations that he had ordered fighters to leave the area.

“There were no orders to anyone to withdraw from the battlefield,” General Idris said, wearing a black polo shirt and dark cap, with a pistol holstered under his left arm.

The video did not indicate his precise whereabouts in the province, specify when he was there or provide any other information about the visit.

General Idris’s group was intended to be the moderate pathway for military aid to the Syrian opposition, but he has been increasingly marginalized as aid has remained limited and more radical fighters have grown stronger on the battlefield.

Jihadist groups fighting in Syria now include more than 6,000 foreigners, and they have been pouring into the country at an accelerated pace, according to counterterrorism officials.

By The New York Times



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