As Civil War Rages Across Syria, Assad's Own Community May Pose New Challenge for Regime

Some commentators say a local dispute may mark the beginning of a new front against the president – one launched by his own Alawite brethren.

Are the battles in Syria closing in on President Bashar Assad's lion's den? According to recent reports in the country, in the past few days violence has been raging among different Alawite "clans" in the city of Kardaha, located in the Alawite mountains in the country's northwest. Assad is of Alawite descent.

According to the reports, Mohammad al-Assad, leader of the regime's Shabiha organization, was killed in the gunfire that erupted in Kardaha.

The reports added that fighting began following an argument in a coffee shop in the city, when Alawite youth openly criticized Assad. A firefight then ensued.

Syrian television channel Addounia – owned by businessman Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad – confirmed the reports of a firefight but insisted that the event was a local one, having no effect on the nationwide situation.

On the other hand, some see the incident as the catalyst for a rebellion within the Alawite community against Assad and the families who support him – citing as evidence some families' announcements that they now support the rebels. Critics also point to the regime's heavy hand against its citizens, namely by means of arrests and torture.

Meanwhile, a Hezbollah commander and several fighters were killed inside Syria, a Lebanese security official said Tuesday, a development that could stoke already soaring tensions over the Lebanese militant group's role in the civil war next door.

Hezbollah's reputation has taken a beating over its support for the Syrian regime, but any sign that the group's fighters are taking part in the battle raises fears that the conflict could expand into a wider fight engulfing the region.

Hezbollah has stood by Assad since the uprising began 18 months ago, even after the group supported revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain.

Assad's fall would be a dire scenario for Hezbollah. Any new regime led by Syria's majority Sunni Muslims would likely be far less friendly - or even outright hostile - to Shiite Muslim Hezbollah. Iran remains the group's most important patron, but Syria is a crucial supply route. Without it, Hezbollah will struggle to get money and weapons as easily.