​War encircles popular summer vacation spot in Syria

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer traveled to Syria for a rare look at how the country's civil war is impacting its people and cities. Palmer filed this report from Latakia - one of the last remaining areas under full government control.


LATAKIA, Syria -- There are few places left in Syria where a "good shot" has nothing to do with guns, but instead, a score on a volleyball court.

Latakia, on the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the last cities in the country under full government control. If you're Syrian and you can afford it, this is where you come for your summer vacation -- and to block out Syria's vicious war, which is creeping ever closer.

Less than 50 miles away, extremist fighters took the city of Jisr al Shugour in May. Rebel groups now control large areas of countryside.

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Men play volleyball in the resort area of Latakia, Syria
CBS News

Only half an hour's drive out of Latakia we found one of the Syrian army posts holding the line. We weren't allowed to film their fighting positions, just the soldiers checking traffic for rebel sympathizers and weapons.

Beyond the Syrian government checkpoint is contested territory. The Syrian military -- tired and overstretched -- doesn't like to admit it, but things are not going well. Over the past year they've lost ground to ISIS and a whole patchwork of extremist groups.

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CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer stands in front of a Syrian army checkpoint in Latakia
CBS News

One man we met, Haeyk, has a family home in government territory. But he tells me his son's school -- just a mile away -- has fallen to the opposition.

"What would happen if you went there?" I asked him.

"Not a chance," he answered. "The snipers would get us."

Latakia's city center is still bustling with life, but everyone here, just like the people on the beach, is afraid that the little pockets of stability remaining are on borrowed time.

Latakia has an extra measure of protection because a majority of the people who live here are big supporters of President Bashar al-Assad and his government, so any rebel attack is bound to meet with ferocious resistance from the population.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."