Syrian rebel factions have made much of their offensive against the coastal Latakia Province, the ancestral homeland of President Assad’s family. So far it has meant taking over remote towns along the coast and other relatively unimportant territory.
One big gain came for al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, which seized the Christian town of Kassab on Sunday, and followed that up by capturing the nearby border crossing into neighboring Turkey. In the offensive they reportedly killed 80 locals and desecrated several churches.
Kassab and its surrounding villages are Armenian Christians, and their value is primarily because of their location near the Turkish border. Rebel factions that control border crossings are not only able to smuggle in arms for themselves, but are able to demand a cut when other factions use those crossings.
The reports of wholesale killings of locals and mass evacuations among the Christian population is in stark contrast to the Christian minorities in the territory of rival al-Qaeda faction al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which has gotten the Christians to agree to a Jizya tax in return for a promise of protection.