Dozens of Syrian residents in a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad have staged a sit-in, calling on the leadership to help soldiers besieged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in an airport in the country’s north.
Resident in the coastal city of Tartus on Tuesday held banners, urging the government to send a military force towards Kwaires military airport amid reports of a deadly ISIL attack there.
ISIL on Monday launched rockets that hit the airport, killing at least 17 troops, including senior officers, according to both state media and opposition sources.
The airport, located in the east of Aleppo city near the ISIL-controlled al-Bab town, has been besieged since 2013. It is estimated that there are between 300 to 500 troops inside the airport.
Soldiers have so far survived on airdropped supplies but are believed to be suffering from severe shortages of food and medicine.
In the protest near Tartus’ governorate building on Tuesday, one demonstrator held a banner that read: “We want the bodies of our martyrs; we want the injured; break the siege imposed on our resilient heroes.”
Another banner read: “Save the guardians of the dawn.”
The majority of Tartus’ 90,000 inhabitants are from the Alawite sect, which Assad belongs to. The coastal city has remained relatively insulated from actual fighting in Syria, but its residents have swelled the ranks of the army and pro-regime militia, the National Defence Force (NDF).
The city is frequently dubbed “the capital of martyrs”. Its mayor has said that Tartus and its suburbs have the highest proportional number of casualties in the army and the NDF.
Since the conflict began in March 2011, more than 240,000 people have been killed across the country, including more than 50,000 army soldiers and about 34,000 NDF fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Tuesday’s protest comes just days after demonstrations erupted in Latakia, another Assad stronghold, over the killing of an army officer blamed on a cousin of the president.
It is rare for Alawites to speak out against the ruling regime publicly. They have largely sided with Assad as he battled the opposition ranks, which are largely from the Sunni sect.