Syrian President Bashar Assad told members of a Russian delegation on Wednesday that their country is playing an important role by creating a “multi-polar world.”
The delegation of the Russian Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, headed by Sergei Stepashin, passed on a message from President Vladimir Putin to Assad. In it Putin expressed his country’s determination to support Syria in various fields during its “war against international terrorism,” which is being supported by some Western and regional countries, SANA – the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Assad expressed his appreciation for Russia’s firm support.
Also on Wednesday, the Syrian army continued targeting rebel forces in the countryside near Latakia, killing a number of them, SANA reported.
Latakia, a port city in northwestern Syria, is a stronghold of Assad’s regime.
Western-backed Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba visited Latakia on Tuesday amid a rebel offensive there.
Meanwhile, a new report by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) titled “Syrian Alawis Slam Assad Regime for Its Treatment of Alawi Sect,” finds that members of Assad’s sect are increasingly criticizing the regime.
“In the three years since the start of the revolution, some Alawi voices did object to Assad’s conduct, but the weight they carried on the Syrian street and within the Alawi sect was unclear,” the report said.
“However, recently there have been more reports, mostly in media outlets hostile to the Syrian regime, of increasing displeasure with the regime among the Alawi sect due to the heavy toll Alawis are paying for the association with Assad and also due to the fact that the regime takes their support for granted. This displeasure is also expressed on social media and articles written by Alawis.”
A post by Ahmad War on a pro-regime Facebook page stated, “Where in the world has an entire sect died for one family?” Tens of thousands of Alawites are reported to have been killed in the fighting, out of a sect that has about around two million members.
One of the main grievances, according to the report, is that the regime does not do enough to get back captured Alawites.
The criticism increased after last month’s release of 150 female prisoners in return for 13 nuns who were kidnapped by al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front. In January, the regime released 2,000 prisoners in return for 48 kidnapped Iranians.
A post on Facebook by Naser Alnukari, who identified himself as an Alawite, was widely mentioned in social media.
“To honorable President Dr. Bashar Hafez Al-Assad: Only today I learned that we Alawis are worthless in your country! I was overjoyed at the release of the nuns and thank the gunmen for not demanding that one thousand Alawis be executed in return for their [release]!” reported MEMRI.
“Excuse me, Mr. President, but your policy has become a real existential threat to Alawis! Starting today I am committed to doing anything [I can] to defend myself as an Alawi against your lethal policies towards me and towards all Alawis!” Alnukari added.
Asked how pervasive the Alawite unhappiness is, Naama Mozes, head of the Syrian desk at MEMRI, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “It is very difficult to accurately assess the extent and depth of the Alawites’ unhappiness with how Assad is conducting affairs, and just as difficult to assess the extent of their support for him.
“This is because the reports that we receive can sometimes be tainted with bias and even disinformation,” she said.
“What is clear is that there is at least a little bitterness in the Alawite street about the Assad regime and its treatment of them, because of the numbers of Alawites killed,” said Mozes, adding that this has only been exacerbated now that “the battle has now reached their own backyard, which has until now been almost completely outside the battleground.”
Reports indicate that Assad’s inner circle, including his bodyguards, “include almost no Alawites – they are nearly all Hezbollah members and Iranians,” Mozes said. “If these reports are true, they could indicate that Assad does not trust his own sect.”