SYRIA: Latakia doctor says crackdown aims to divide and conquer
A doctor reached in the besieged Syrian port city of Latakia confirmed the accounts of many activists over the last few days, including that security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad had targeted the city with gunboats and herded residents into a sports stadium.
The doctor, whose identity is being withheld for his protection, alleged that the regime was trying to divide and conquer the city by targeting only Sunni Muslim neighborhoods in an attempt to heighten sectarian tensions and mobilize the city's Christian and Alawite minorities to support it.
"Since Saturday, Syrian armored vehicles began to take the district of Ramel from the two main entry points, supported by a naval force composed of three ships stationed off the shore," he said. "Their policy was to divide Latakia into two parts, one pro-government and one opposition, which is mainly Sunni."
He said more than 50 people had died in the last four days. "My hospital currently suffers from a shortage in medicines and emergency supplies," he said. "There are a lot of wounded on the floors in the hospital because we don't have enough beds and space."
The doctor, an employee of Latakia National Hospital [link in Arabic], is an opposition supporter but not an activist. Babylon & Beyond is not naming him or revealing his age because he faces possible reprisal from Assad's gunmen, who he said continue to terrorize parts of the city. He spoke via Skype.
In addition to Ramel, the doctor said security forces were targeting the district of Dafaa, a mostly Sunni area. "They have been demonstrating on a daily basis although large crowds don't gather and I don't imagine it being like in Ramel," he said. "The strategy was also to isolate the hot military zone where all the security, army units and mercenaries from the mountains [Allawite Shabiha militia] worked."
The targeted areas cover about a third of the city of 650,000.
The operation, he said, began with with heavy gunfire targeting homes "to intimidate people and with a campaign of mass arrests of hundreds of young people."
Electrical power and telecommunications were cut. An infantry unit entered as bulldozers demolished some houses in the neighborhood, which includes Palestinian a refugee camp.
"Military forces stormed the refugee camp of the Palestinians, which led to a large number of Palestinian families fleeing," the doctor said. "Military forces asked them to leave their houses over loudspeakers."
Some of those fleeing headed for the countryside while others were directed toward sports facilities.
"What we know and what we have seen is that the April 7 football stadium and Sports City stadium have turned into a detention facility," he said.
-- A special correspondent in Damascus and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: A satellite image of Latakia's Sports City, where activists and residents say detainees are being held. Credit: Google Earth