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A rebel fighter loads an anti-tank cannon during fighting against pro-government forces on the outskirts of Syria's port city of Latakia on Sunday.

Latakia and neighboring Tartous form the Mediterranean heartland of the Alawite faith - the Shiite-derived sect of which President Bashar al-Assad is a member.

Many Alawites have remained loyal to the government throughout the three-year-old conflict which has killed at least 160,000 people.

A presidential election on Tuesday is expected to return Assad to power, but the opposition has branded the vote a "parody of democracy."

— Agence France-Presse, Reuters