Valerie, an American Business Owner in Latakia, Tells Her Story of Gun Boats, Rimal al-Janubi, the Evacuation, and Miliatry Operations
Posted by Joshua on Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Valerie – an American business owner in Latakia – tells her story of Gun Boats, Rimal al-Janubi, the Evacuation, and the Military Operation in Latakia
It is scary here. It seems the longer this goes on the worse the outcome is going to be for the Syrian people. Latakia is pretty much empty. This is supposed to be the busy season for most businesses here. Many of the business owners like us have been paying employees to sit and do nothing but busy work for months now. We are emptying our own personal savings to pay them. We won’t be able to do this for much longer.
Below is my account of what happened a few weeks ago in Latakia.
Regarding the military operation in Latakia on August 12th – 15th.
I am an American woman living in Latakia. I was at the Assad Sports City complex when residents from Rimal al Janubi and the Rimal Palestinian refugee camp were sheltered there.
On Thursday, August 11th, my husband called me from Turkey, where he was working for business, to tell me I should plan on staying close to home for the weekend. He told me the government had made an announcement of a planned military operation in Rimal al Janubi, a poor neighborhood that includes the nearby Palestinian camp. He said that the government was advising residents of the Rimal neighborhood to evacuate and that anyone who remained behind risked being caught in the gunfights they expected to ensue. They would also risk being arrested for suspicion of aiding the opposition fighters. Rimal is on the outskirts of Latakia and at the opposite side of the city from where I live. My husband was concerned that fighting might spill out from Rimal and into neighborhoods near the center of the city.
My apartment is in the Al Asher neighborhood not far from Al Assad Sports City. I can see the complex from the balcony and roof of my apartment. Friday I stayed home with my children and listened to the news waiting to hear about what was going on in Rimal and if anything was happening in other parts of the city. My electricity, water, and internet were never cut. When I began hearing reports later in the day that the military was using war ships to shell parts of the Rimal neighborhood, I called another American friend who lives in an apartment near the southern corniche that overlooks the sea onto the Rimal neighborhood. He said he could see the ships sailing back and forth near Rimal, but had not seen or heard them firing. Like me he had been home all day. He had noticed the ships when he first awoke and had been watching them all day. He explained that he knew about the planned military operation and was thus waiting it see if anything happened and for that reason paid particular attention to the gun ships. When I spoke with him later, he said he had spent most of the weekend watching the ships and said never saw or heard them fire anything.
The Sports City complex
On Saturday morning my driver arrived at 8:45 am and went with me on my run. I run 6 days a week around the perimeter of the Sports City complex. While on the run I noticed about 4 or 5 cars of people pulling into the complex. I also noticed several children playing near the entrances with park staff. The complex is usually fairly empty at this time of the morning unless there is an event going on. When I asked, my driver later told me that these were people coming from Rimal and that many of them were staying inside the stadium. When the cars pulled in they had to register and show their ids to the guards. This is a standard procedure for anyone entering the complex at anytime. At about 10:30 am, after my run I sent the driver on a shopping errand in the center of the city. He came back early and told me that there was a lot of gunfire in the city and didn’t feel it was safe to be there. He said there were no protests going on. This was also the first time there had been gunfire in the center of the city so early in the day. During the day I watched a 3 or 4 buses of people from Rimal dropping off residents at Sports City. I also watched as truckloads of supplies and food were brought in. The Joud family (a prominent family in Latakia) donated a truckload of food for the Iftar dinner each night.
On Sunday, I watched as 2 or 3 more buses dropped Rimal residents off at Sports City. I had heard on the news that 5,000 people were staying at Sports City. This report seemed to be a great exaggeration. From what I could see from my apartment, I estimate there were only about 500. My driver told me that because of the announcement made early by the government of the planned military operation and the on going violence in the neighborhood many people had left the city to stay in the villages with family members. Latakia as a whole is nearly empty. Most residents who are able to, have escaped the daily gunfights here to their familial villages.
Four Soldiers and 50 Non-Soldiers Killed
On Monday, the government announced it had finished its’ military operation in Latakia. I watched as several bus loads (maybe 5 or 6, but definitely not 5,000 people) carried people from Sports City back to Rimal. Government television said 4 soldiers had been killed and 35 were wounded by gunfire. Approximately 50 others were killed and many others were wounded. It is difficult to determine if these were opposition fighters or civilians caught in the crossfire. No one that I have spoken to in Latakia believes there were any protests taking place in Rimal that weekend.
There have been rumors circulating in Latakia, some from credible sources, that the reason the military had gone into Rimal al Janubi and the Palestinian camp was that opposition fighters had taken over the neighborhood. Some rumors have gone as far as to say that the opposition had actually been able to set up their own check points and had closed several of the roads into the neighborhood. Being in Latakia and seeing what I have seen over the past 5 months these rumors seem more credible than the reports I see everyday on the news on peaceful protesters being murdered en masse.
I don’t believe all of the deaths in Syria are those of innocent non-violent protesters. I also don’t believe that the government is responsible for all of the deaths. The events I have witnessed here in Latakia lead me to believe opposition groups are taking arms up against the government forces (I have seen a Palestinian girl arrested after weapons were found in her apartment, the cousin of a friend was killed while walking in an Alawi neighborhood that has never seen any protests, another expat friend of mine saw a man setting up a sniper rifle on the rooftop across from the building where he worked and watched as the man was arrested after someone else called the police, the list goes on…). If the opposition is taking up arms against the government here in Latakia, the sheer number of deaths make it easy to believe opposition groups in cities and villages like Homs and Jisr al Shuggour are not peacefully opposing the government as the western media would like us to believe.
A Syrian from Aleppo writes:
I can confirm the death of the 4 soldiers in Latakia that day as Valarie mentioned. My cousin is serving his compulsory military service in the navy in a base in Latakia. He’s a medicine graduate, so he is a medic. That day in the morning they gave everyone on the base bulletproof vests and ordered them to wear them all day. Later in the day they took the medics to al-raml Al-janoobi area. My cousin saw 4 dead soldiers brought in and many others wounded. There is no question about the existence of militancy in the opposition. The coastal and boarder areas have surely witnessed a flood of arms coming in during the past six months. With the 24/7 incitement on Aljazeera and 2 dedicated extremist channels funded by Saudi and calling for people to jihad against the “heretics” and “Shiaa” and “rawafedh” in Syria, it would be strange if Al-Qaeda and other extremists aren’t pushing for holly war in Syria with arms and money.
Militancy is still a limited phenomenon in the revolt. My concern is that the media and activists want us to believe that the militancy does not exist and that the government wants us to believe that all demonstrators and revolutionaries are armed. This is not true. The activists should denounce the violence and the government should allow real peaceful demos to take place.
BBC Report: “It’s the first time, for a long time, that they’ve used gunboats.”
NYTimes: Syrian Navy Joins Attack on Key Rebellious Port City
Al-Jazeera video footage: Tanks and gunboats ‘fire on Latakia’