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Mortar attack kills 23 in Assad stronghold of Latakia in Syria

Attack is one of the few on the well-secured Alawite heartland
Images on social media show aftermath of mortar attack (@Terror_Monitor/Twitter)

A mortar attack has killed 23 people in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, state TV has reported.

The attack on Tuesday, which is also thought to have injured 62 people, marks a rare incursion into the stronghold - and historic Alawite homeland - of the Bashar al-Assad government.

The mortar struck an area near Tishrin university. Video footage showed a car on fire and other vehicles hit with shrapnel. Blood was visible on the road.

Though no-one has claimed responsibility, some have pointed to images released by Ahrar al-Sham, which indicates they fired rockets from a village in the surrounding countryside of Latakia:

Latakia is seen as the last bastion for Assad should the government ever be put on the backfoot and, as such, it has been heavily secured against attack by opposition groups.

In September, a car bomb set off in the city killed 10 people.

Latakia is also home to a Russian airbase used for conducting air strikes against rebel forces in Syria, which has further made the province a target for rebel attacks.

Opposition groups have a presence in the north of Latakia province, but the city is firmly in government hands.

The residents of the city, who are largely from the Alawite minority, often seen the war in Syria as existential, fearing persecution should the overwhelmingly Sunni opposition ever win control.

In spite of tension however, around 50 percent of Latakia city is still Sunni, according to a report by the International Strategic Research Organisation.