May 24 - A semblance of normalcy hangs over the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a pro-regime enclave untouched by the civil war that has reduced most other cities and towns to rubble. Vanessa Johnston reports.
Portraits of the Syrian leader smile down at motorists driving through Latakia's bustling streets. Many other cities and towns have been reduced to rubble by the country's civil war, but Latakia remains untouched. Reuters was taken on a government sanctioned tour of the coastal city on Saturday to see how residents are enjoying a semblance of normal life. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) LOCAL RESIDENT, RASHA HUWAIJA, SAYING: "Clients are always in the markets, thank God, although we are living in a very difficult crisis -- any other country would not live in the conditions we are living in." The city is filled with refugees from Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Many have found new opportunities in Latakia. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ALAA AL-KHATIB, HAIR STYLIST FROM ALEPPO , WORKING AT HIS SALON, SAYING: "Here you feel safe. There are people. There is stability and life. And because I am a hair stylist we came here to re-build our careers." Locals say they are not resentful towards the influx of refugees. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) MOHANNAD SHUREIBA, SHOP OWNER, SAYING: "People came here selling on the sidewalks and others in shops. After all, we are all one people. We can split the piece of bread between us. Whether they came here or I went there we would stay one people and one country." Latakia is considered to be President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral homeland, and is a key government stronghold. According to the Britain-based, anti-Assad Observatory for Human Rights, more than 162,000 people have been killed since a revolt against him began in March 2011.