CONFLICTING REPORTS OVER WHO EXACTLY IS WINNING IN QALAMOUN AS SRC RETRIEVE 150 DEAD BODIES:
TIMELINE – 7th MARCH 2014 20.58 GMT:
Conflicting reports are emerging from the battle for the Qalamoun region around Yabroud as the Assad regime and Opposition forces struggle for control of this important strategic area.
Earlier this week, the Assad regime reports gains but this morning Opposition fighters regained one of the hills overlooking Yabroud which continues to be pounded however by Syrian Government jets 6 times on Thursday and 3 barrel-bombs dropped from helicopters.
The Syrian Airforce is reported to have launched 6 air raids against the nearby district of Al-Aqaba today, Friday, while both sides have claimed victory over control of the Rima Farms area.
4 members of Hezbollah were reported killed this morning, according to Opposition sources, in an ambush near Yabroud and Opposition fighters also destroyed another regime tank.
The 13 Greek Orthodox nuns and their 2 maids taken from the Christian town of Maloula last year and housed by Opposition fighters in Yabroud, appear to have disappeared, says the negotiator trying to obtain their release, but it is likely that they have been moved nearer the Lebanese border because of the heavy bombing of area.
The battle for control of the Qalamoun has now been going on for a month, with Opposition activists claiming that as many as 350 members of Hezbollah have been killed in the fighting.
Reports today, Friday, also say that the Syrian Red Cross has just retrieved 150 bodies of Assad fighters in the last 24 hours, mainly 4th Brigade and Republican Guard, (Graphic Scenes Blurred), HERE:
Certainly, Hezbollah is coming under increasing pressure in Lebanon to withdraw but as part of the wider Shia community it feels compelled to continue in what has now become a sectarian conflict. This article discusses the emerging Shia/Sunni conflict in the Middle East, HERE:
HEAVY FIGHTING AROUND MOREK AS ASSAD STRUGGLES TO REGAIN SUPPLY ROUTE BETWEEN HAMA AND IDLIB:
Very heavy fighting is also reported around the town of Morek (famous for its production of pistachio nuts) in Hama province, which is controlled by Opposition fighters but which the regime is desperate to regain as it sits upon their supply route between Hama and Idlib cities.
While the regime have lost 3 tanks in recent days as well as 14 soldiers, the Opposition Al-nusra Front side have lost 9 fighters, with another 20 wounded. A captured T-72 is shown, HERE:
At the southern entrance to Hama city yesterday, Thursday, the Opposition exploded a truck packed with explosives in front of an Airforce Intelligence security building. 5 people were reported killed and 22 wounded.
Opposition fighters targeting a regime checkpoint at Khan Sheikhoun (reported earlier – scroll down below), also in Hama province, are seen, HERE:
Another suicide car bomb in the Al-Arman district of Homs on Thursday is reported to have killed 15, including 9 civilians and a child. At least 30 people were wounded in the neighbourhood which is mainly Alawite and Christian.
In the Opposition held Al-Weir district of Homs civilians are being harassed and killed again today by regime barrel-bombs and sniper fire, while at Krak des Chevaliers and nearby Azzarah heavy clashes have resumed between the 2 sides.
In Raqqah province to the north-east of Syria a new outbreak of fighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and the Syrian Army is reported aound Base 17 just to the north of Raqqah city, with a number of Assad’s soldiers killed.
In Aleppo, Opposition fighters are reported to have advanced a little in the fight for control of the Sheikh Najar industrial neighbouhood, shelling Government forces on the edge of Sheikh Najar and Sheikh Zayat villages, HERE:
In Quneitra province to the south, Opposition fighters used a M79 Osa anti-tank missile launcher to attack a BMP armoured vehicle in Quneitra province, killing the crew. The aftermath can be seen, HERE:
SNC FINDS COMPROMISE FOR OUSTED FSA LEADER, WHILE EXPERT PREDICTS “WAR COULD GO ON FOR 10 YEARS”:
An Opposition dispute which errupted last month after the dismissal of General Salim Idriss as the commander of the Opposition’s Supreme Military Council, was settled yesterday with Idriss accepting his replacement by General Abdel-Ilah Bashir, but being appointed as “military advisor” to the Syrian National Coalition leader, Ahmad Jabra, instead.
15 commanders of other brigades, angry as Idriss’s “undemocratic dismissal” had threatened to leave the Supreme Military Council altogether. Assaad Mustafa, the SNC’s Defence Minister, blamed for Idriss’ firing, has resigned, but is tipped to later reappear as the Interior Minister in any provisional government.
In the United States, the American Government has restricted Syria’s UN Ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, to movements only within a 25 miles radius of the UN building. Recently, Assad’s UN representative has been very active promoting pro-Assad events across the US.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, and expert for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies organsiation in the US has predicted (EDITOR: God forbid!) that the war in Syria could last another “10 years”.
Assad meanwhile has sent a cable to President Putin applauding his actions in Ukraine which said, “President al-Assad stressed that President Putin’s policy which is based on the international legitimacy and the objectives of the UN remain the guarantee for all world peoples to create a balanced and transparent world based on respecting the sovereignty of countries and the right of peoples to decide their destiny”.
(EDITOR: Excuse me while I reach for the “sick bag”!)
There are an increasing number of pro-Assad rallies again, rather suddenly, across Syria. Perhaps it is the warmer weather or the prospect of a “mock election” to re-elect Assad.
Parents of school children in Damascus have complained that without warning, their children have been whisked away in the last lesson of the day, to attend the rallies.
“Even though it can be very dangerous, they just put them on a bus and take them to a march during their last period of the day without informing us or anything,” the mother of one 11-year-old boy said. “If they inform us, they know that most parents would not send their kids to school that day.” You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, more of the latest comments from the good citizens of Kafranbel in Idlib province, today, here;
NEW UN REPORT CONFIRMS THAT CHEMICAL WEAPONS USED IN 2 FATAL INCIDENTS LAST YEAR “CAME FROM SYRIAN ARMY STOCKPILES”:
TIMELINE – 5th MARCH 2014 13.48 GMT – UPDATED 20.17 GMT:
In a new report issued today, Wednesday, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, chaired by Paulo Pinheiro, going further than it has before, has said that chemical weapons used to kill hundreds of people in 2 incidents last year came from Syrian Army stockpiles.
Without categorically saying which side was to blame, investigators say in the report that, “The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents.”
The August 21st incident occurred in Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital and simultaneously at several other Opposition-held areas causing the death of mostly civilians, including many women and children.
About another earlier incident on March 19th, which the Assad regime blamed on “terrorists”, the report says that “the chemical agents used in that attack bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in al-Ghouta.”
Ake Sellstrom, the United Nations’s chief investigator, who led a team of inspectors in Syria, said in January it was “difficult to see” how the Opposition could have weaponised the toxins used.
The same report also went on to accuse the Syrian Government of employing “siege warfare, instrumentalizing basic human needs for water, food, shelter and medical care as part of its military strategy,” forcing victims to choose between surrender and starvation – a “starvation until submission campaign.”
The Commission additionally noted the Syrian Government’s “widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance as crimes against humanity,” as well as recording abuses by Opposition groups, notably the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS), particularly on the citizens of Raqqah where civilians were subjected to “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”.
The Commission has never gained direct access to Syria, relying on more than 2,600 interviews in the region and from Geneva, most of them conducted over Skype.
The Commissioners have also drawn up a confidential list of people and groups it believes should be held accountable and called on the UN Security Council to refer their reports to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague for prosecution.
On the disposal of chemical weapons front, with 3 deliveries expected at the port of Latakia by the end of this week, the Syrian regime will have disposed of around 35% of its chemical weapons stock, although the destruction programme is now well behind schedule.
Syria was to have shipped out all of the most dangerous Category 1 chemicals by December 31st 2013 and Category 2 chemicals by February 5th 2014, but is well behind target, now proposing a new date in April. All of the chemical weapons were meant to have been destroyed completely by the end of June 2014.
However, while an international fleet of ships waits offshore to transport and destroy the chemicals, the Syrian Government has apparently destroyed 93 percent of its stocks of isopropanol, used to make sarin nerve gas, a task that was supposed to have been 100% completed by March 1st. The remaining balance is “currently inaccessible for security reasons”.
DESPITE BARREL-BOMBS RAINING DOWN, OPPOSITION GAIN GROUND AROUND ALEPPO:
In Aleppo violent clashes have been taking place between Assad’s forces and the Islamic Front in the neighbourhood of Al-Ameria, while the regime dropped 12 barrel bombs on the Masaken Hananou district this morning, Wednesday.
The Syrian Airforce are also reported to have dropped 15 barrel-bombs yesterday on the strategically important industrial district to the north-east of the city at Sheikh Najjar in an attempt to drive out Opposition fighters.
However, the Opposition in Sheikh Najjar has fought back with Grad missiles, HERE: , destroyed a Government tank with a missile and killed 20 pro-Assad fighters plus a senior regime commander, Suleiman al-#Assad.
The Opposition also targeted regime forces with heavy weaponry in the Saleh Al-Dun district, HERE:
South of Aleppo city, Opposition fighters are said to have killed “dozens” of members of the Abu alFadl al Abbas” brigade, a pro-Assad organisation which originates from Iraq, as well as capturing territory near the Nayrab military airport.
South of Aleppo Opposition fighters are said to have taken over 4 villages near Safira, while at Al-Bab an explosion is reported at the headquarters there of the Jihadist group ISIL.
Interesting article on one of Aleppo’s “sniper alleys” known as the “Corridor of Death”, HERE:
LARGE NUMBERS OF HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS REPORTED KILLED IN THE QALAMOUN REGION, WHILE ISRAEL KILLS 2 OF THEIR BOMBERS:
In the Qalamoun region between Damascus and Homs, which is crucial for the Assad regime to control their links between the capital and their heartland in Latakia, another 75 Hezbollah and other pro-Assad fighters were reported killed on Tuesday.
This is the second unconfirmed report of large number of regime troops killed near Yabroud – 70 were reported killed there on the 28th February. Druze fighters loyal to Assad, have also apparently refused to fight in Qalamoun since the battle started, and have returned to their regions in Jermana and the Tadamoun camp to the south of Damascus.
An Opposition tank is seen firing on Hezbollah positions in Qalamoun, HERE: while the regime is reported to have intensely barrel-bombed Yabroud again today.
Sources in Damascus say that Assad in a meeting with his top advisers from the Ba’ath Pary recently told them that Damascus was of the utmost importance as the country’s capital and it needed to be secured using all available military and security forces. As the heart of the state its fall would be tantamount to a conclusive defeat, he is reported to have said.
The Assad regime therefore is believed to be concentrating its resources around Damascus as a prelude to the avowed “spring offensive” on the capital declared by the Opposition and increasing Opposition advances to the south near the Jordanian border. You can read more, HERE:
A report from the Telegraph says that the car-bombs planted in Shia districts in Lebanon and in particular Beirut, have bumped up recruitment rates for Hezbollah, HERE: while Israel says it shot 2 Hezbollah agents trying to plant a bomb by the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
Some reports of the incident spoke of heavy machine gun fire, while SANA, the Syrian state media, spoke of “4 tank shells fired from Israel into Syrian territory aimed at a mosque and a school”.
Israel also said today that its Navy had intercepted a cargo vessel sailing in international waters between Sudan and Eritrea that was carrying “an Iranian shipment of advanced weapons destined for Gaza”.
SPLIT EMERGES BETWEEN ARAB COUNTRIES SUPPORTING OPPOSITE SYRIAN OPPOSITION FACTIONS, WHILE FSA FOUNDER SERIOUSLY INJURED IN CAR CRASH:
Around the edges of Idlib city, Opposition fighters are reported to have overrun a number of regime checkpoints, seen in this rather “smokey” video footage, HERE: while in Deir Ez-Zour 2 IEDs exploded around midnight, 1 near the Bokamal city entrance, and the other breaking an oil pipeline east of Bokamel and causing a fire.
In Deraa city, heavy battles are once again reported around the Airforce Intelligence Headquarters in the eastern suburbs, with similar fierce clashes around the town of Morik in Hama province.
Not for the first time, a split has occurred among the ruling dynasties that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE today, Wednesday, withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar.
The 3 monarchies are angry with Qatar because of its continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement whose political ideology challenges the principle of dynastic rule, and by its playing host to its spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported different factions of the fighting Opposition groups in Syria. You can read more, HERE:
Opposition sources are reporting that Riad Al-Asaad, the founder and former head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was seriously injured in a car crash yesterday, Tuesday, about 30 kilometres outside Istanbul on the road to Ankara.
Al-Asaad’s 17 year old son, Mohamed, was killed in the crash, while Asaad himself, who had already lost a leg in an assassination attempt in Syria about a year ago, is said to be in intensive care.
(EDITOR: Our condolences to the Al-Asaad family and good wishes to a brave man who took on the might of the Syrian Army right at the beginning of this conflict)
And, lastly, how would a British child feel if her world was turned upside down by civil war breaking out in the UK? Save The Children Fund, who are working extensively in Syrian refugee camps, have produced this Syrian Appeal video, here:
FIGHTING BREAKS OUT AROUND YARMOUK CAMP IN DAMASCUS AS TRUCE FALLS APART:
TIMELINE – 3rd MARCH 2014 13.53 GMT – UPDATED 16.50 GMT:
The truce established to help the 40,000 people still remaining in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp to the south of Damascus, fell apart over the weekend as Al-Nusra Front (ANF) fighters returned and hostilities with the regime broke out.
Shells and mortars fell on the Camp on Sunday and there was direct gunfire between ANF and members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a Palestinian organisation that continues to support Assad. Each side blamed the other for the break down of the truce.
The truce had begun in early February when ANF withdrew after an agreement to allow in aid, but it now says it returned on Sunday because the other side had failed to implement the agreement properly.
The UN refugee agency UNRWA has confirmed that it has been allowed to deliver only 7,500 food packages since the beginning of the truce, which it describes as “a drop in the ocean compared with the rising tide of need.” At least 100 people have already died in Yarmouk of hunger or hunger-related illnesses.
18,000 of the 40,000 still inside Yarmouk are thought to be of Palestinian origin. The Telegraph tells the story of Yarmouk, HERE:
There are also concerns that the agreed truce in the south-western Damascus suburb of Moadamiyah is also breaking down.
Although some families who come from there have been allowed to return to visit their houses and students have been let out to attend classes, some entrance roads have also been closed.
According to activists the Assad regime has been demanding that the FSA fighters remaining hand over even their light weapons and some shelling has occurred, as well as attempts by some Syrian Army troops to sneak into the area. Moadamiyah was also the subject of a regime chemical weapons attack last August.
Al Jazeera has a video report on the fragile truces and their effects on the local population, HERE:
Despite apparent agreements with the Assad regime over the disposal of all of its stocks of chemical weapons since then, unconfirmed reports from Adra to the north-east of the capital, suggest that some form of poisonous gas was used in rockets landing on the district over the weekend.
4 people are reported to have died from the fumes and at least another 20 injured. Atropine, which is administered in cases of spasms caused by chemical poisoning, had no effect and hair and blood samples have been sent for analysis.
Elsewhere around Damascus, the Free Syrian Army targeted Assad’s troops on the Sahnaya highway south of the city near Daraya, killing 6 soldiers including an officer, and ongoing heavy clashes are reported in the suburb this morning, Monday.
Also on the southern ring road, Islamic Front fighters destroyed a Shabiha (Assad armed militia) truck with a recoilless gun, HERE:
In fighting in the mountainous Qalamoun region between Damascus and Lebanon, Opposition fighters claimed on Saturday to have killed 5 members of Hezbollah, 10 pro-Assad fighters from Iraq and 70 members of Assad’s regular forces.
South-east of Yabroud, Opposition fighters claimed to have shot down a MIG fighter jet near Qastal.
The massacre of civilians at Otaiba that was reported earlier (scroll down – see below), and which the Assad regime claimed was a the legitimate killing of “175 terrorists”, has produced a survivor who is able to give testimony.
According to him, at least half the group were civilians accompanied by Opposition fighters returning to other parts of the country, confirming the account given to the UN by the Opposition Syrian National Council. You can read more, HERE:
13 KILLED BY GOVERNMENT AIRSTRIKE AND ANOTHER 3,300 IN WASTEFUL, STUPID OPPOSITION INFIGHTING:
Syrian Government airstrikes on the small town of Kfar Tarakhim in the north-west of Idlib province on Saturday are reported to have killed 13 people, including several children, while fierce fighting around the town of Khan Sheikhoun has resulted in the liberation of the Al-Ajeeb checkpoint on the eastern side, with the deaths of a “large number” of Assad troops and the capture of ammunition.
In Hasakah province, a commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS), of UAE origin, is reported killed in clashes with the Kurdish militia, the YPG.
At the same time the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London has published an estimate that the infighting between moderate Opposition forces and the ISIL Jihadists since January 3rd has resulted in more than 3,300 deaths.
924 of the dead were estimated to be ISIL members, and 1,380 more moderate Opposition fighters opposing them. 700 other fighters from both sides had died in battle but could not be identified, while 29 bodies were found in abandoned ISIL bases, most probably executed before the Jihadists left.
281 civilians were killed in cross-fire, by stray bullets or in car bomb explosions. (EDITOR: What a stupid waste of life – and especially Opposition resources, when they should all be fighting Assad)
Recent video footage shows the uncovering of a mass grave near Azaz in Aleppo province, another town recently vacated by ISIL, HERE:
FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA, FORD, DOES NOT THINK ALAWITES SUPPORT ASSAD AS MUCH AS HE WOULD LIKE US TO BELIEVE
In Aleppo a convoy of 6 tanks and several armoured personnel carriers has been seen leaving the Military Academy heading for Sheikh Said and the Sheikh Lutfi area, as the Assad military tries to encircle the Opposition held districts of eastern Aleppo.
10 Syrian Army soldiers were reported killed in the Sheikh Najjar industrial area while heavy clashes are ongoing around the 80th Brigade base near the International Airport, the Old City and other neighbourhoods of Aleppo.
In the Aleppo countryside unconfirmed reports say that Opposition fighters seized the Alazami barrier near Khanasser, a strategic town between Hama and Aleppo, and seized tanks, weapons, ammunition and trucks, as well as killing more than 40 of Assad’s troops.
In Deir Ez-Zour province the Syrian Army is reported to have captured the town of Hweja Al-Mre’ya but intense fighting continues nearby around the city’s military airport.
Lastly, former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who retired last Friday, has already given his views on where he thinks Syria is headed. In his view, the Alawites are not so supportive of Assad as the Syrian President would like us to believe, but are also terrified of being wiped out by the Sunnis in a bloodbath.
Ford also believes that everyone needs to come to the conference table, including the Jihadists. You can read more, HERE:
ARE REPORTS OF “175 OPPOSITION FIGHTERS” KILLED IN DAMASCUS SUBURB IN FACT ANOTHER ASSAD REGIME CIVILIAN MASSACRE?:
TIMELINE – 28th FEBRUARY 14.30 GMT – UPDATED 21.55 and 23.50 GMT:
Disturbing reports are emerging that the Assad regime ambush on Opposition fighters on the outskirts of Otaiba in the Eastern Ghouta region to the east of Damascus, was in fact largely a massacre of civilians.
The Syrian Government has claimed triumphantly that they ambushed and killed “175 members of the Al Nusra and Islamic Fronts”.
In fact, the ambush, which took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning, appears to be an IED explosive attack on civilians trying to escape the fighting in the area.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has called on the UN to open an investigation into the attack.
According to their information a large group of civilians accompanied by a small number of Opposition fighters for protection were leaving the area because of the scarcity of food and medical supplies when Government forces detonated a string of mines planted by the roadside.
According to other information from activists in the area, the remaining survivors were then machine gunned by Iraqi and Hezbollah fighters backing Assad’s regular forces or later executed.
Some members of this massacre survived and were taken to an Opposition field hospital in Eastern Ghouta where they were able to report events. Their story is backed by video evidence.
The “killing of so many Opposition fighters” was given wide coverage on pro-Assad TV. However, activists are saying that the bodies of women, the elderly and children were removed by diggers before the remaining dead men were filmed.
Broadcast video however shows a stuffed teddy bear beside one of the dead men at 0.14 and 0.24, (Warning very graphic footage of dead bodies), HERE:
The attack took place between the villages of Al-A’teiba and Meed’a. Activists from East Ghouta say that the human convoy was one of 2 that left that night heading for Jordan and both were escorted by a company sized group of local fighters numbering several dozen men.
The SNC version of events, which described it as “the cowardly act of killing civilians who tried to escape the siege imposed by the Assad regime”, was backed up by the Islamic Front (IF), not normally a supporter of the political coalition.
IF said the escorting fighters were from their Islam Brigade and “175 fighters” would not move in single file along a road, particularly if enemy troops were known to be in the area.
This grainy video footage from Al Manar shows the mines exploding on the horizon and the devastated survivors trying to run away, here:
Al Manar’s footage has been watched on YouTube more than 220,000 times in the last 24 hours, but even some pro-Assad supporters on social media have expressed suspicions about the military value of the ambush or objected to the way it has been heavily promoted by the regime and its allies as a “victory”. <!–[if gte mso 9]>
Elsewhere in Damascus province the Syrian Government has kept up its barrel-bombing campaign regardless of whether civilians are present or not.
Barrel-bombs have been dropped on the besieged Opposition town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun region as the Syrian regime tries to exert complete control of the main Damascus to Homs highway.
This video shows the most recent destruction in Yabroud, HERE: while another 2 barrel-bombs fell on the Damascus suburb of Daraya this morning, making a total of 284 such devices dropped since the start of 2014.
At the city of Qudsaya in Damascus province, for the 7th day running, Syrian Army troops have imposed a total siege with military checkpoints preventing civilians from entering or leaving and also stopping the entry of food, flour or medical supplies, following the killing of one of Assad’s officers.
The Army says it will not break the siege until the person who assassinated him is given up.
ISIS JIHADISTS WITHDRAW FROM NORTHERN ALEPPO PROVINCE BUT IMPOSE BIZARRE “RULES” ON CHRISTIANS IN RAQQAH:
In the ongoing struggle between the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and more moderate Opposition brigades, ISIL are reported to have withdrawn this morning, Friday from the town of Azaz north of Aleppo city and near to the Turkish border.
However, local people, who celebrated the Jihadists departure, also say that another ISIL mass grave has been found nearby.
ISIL is also reported to have withdrawn from the Menegh airbase, blowing up a number of helicopters that the Opposition captured last year as they did so, and also a number of other villages. These including Maarastan, Kasthaar, Mayer, Kafr Khacher, Jarz , Alhamzat and Jamal Monastery, effectively giving up in northern Aleppo province to concentrate their resources in the city of Raqqah where they now have a mini state.
In Raqqah itself, the ISIL Jihadists were reported Wednesday to have imposed 12 bizarre new rules on the Christians who have remained in the city.
Under the new rules Christians will have to pay a “jiziyeh” tax, as imposed in early Islam on non-Muslim subjects. Wealthy Christians are expected to pay the equivalent of 13 grams of pure gold, middle-class Christians pay half that sum, while the poor pay a quarter, in return for “protection”.
The so called “agreement” also demands Christians “do not put on display a cross or anything from their book, anywhere on Muslims’ path or markets” and that they should not “use megaphones to make their prayers heard” or allow the “holding any of their rituals… outside the church.”
In addition Christians “must not restore any monasteries or churches… in their city or elsewhere in the vicinity” or carry arms. Severe penalties will ensue if any of these “rules” are broken.
Although only 1% of Raqqah’s 300,000 population were Christians before the conflict started in 2011, the majority have since fled, especially when ISIL started destroying churches.
Abu Qatada, the Jordanian born Islamic cleric who was deported from Britain last year to Jordan where he is now on trial for “terrorist offences”, yesterday, Thursday, described the rules imposed by ISIL in Syria as “distorted and extreme.”
Despite the withdrawal in Aleppo province reported above, ongoing clashes between ISIL and moderate Opposition fighters continue to be recorded in Haritan in the northern part of Aleppo city and in Maskanah ISIL fighters were photographed carrying out the barbaric amputation of the hand of a man accused of robbery, using a sword.
On Wednesday, moderate Opposition fighters regained positions they had earlier lost around the regime’s Base 80 and destroyed a tank within the base with a anti-tank missile, HERE:
In Aleppo’s Old City, the warmer weather also brought out the anti-Assad demonstrators after Friday prayers and a number of Government, Russian and Hezbollah flags were burnt in the street, HERE:
ASSAD REGIME TARGETING FAMILY MEMBERS OF OPPOSITION DELEGATES TO GENEVA 2, PLUS MORE PROBLEMS FOR SYRIA AS SWINE FLU BREAKS OUT:
In Homs province an Opposition rocket landed in the Government-controlled area of Homs city according to state sources killing 5 and injuring 13.
At the same time, Government forces are reported to have killed 6 women and children with sniper fire as they foraged for weeds to eat on the outskirts of Qalat al Hosn below the 12th century fortress of Krak des Chevaliers. The town has now been under bombardment and siege for 19 months, with many on the verge of death by starvation.
91 men from the 522 evacuated from Old Homs earlier this month are still being interrogated. The Homs Governor, Talal Barazi, described them as “draft evaders, deserters or common law criminals.”
In Idlib province a Syrian Airforce strike is reported to have killed 28 people at Sinjar, south-east of Idlib city, while at Khan Sheikhoun in the southern part of the province, Opposition fighters targeted a regime checkpoint with heavy machine guns and weaponry, HERE: and destroyed a tank with an anti-tank missile as the Salam barrier, HERE:
In Quneitra province, which includes the Golan Heights bordering Israel and is less than 70 kilometres from Damascus, sources are indicating that the Opposition are taking many towns and villages.
Fearful that this will link up with the advancing Opposition in Deraa province bordering Jordan, the Syrian Government this morning, Friday, carried out at least 10 air raids on Opposition positions.
In Hama province, violent clashes have taken place near Mork city between the regime backed by Hezbollah and the National Defence Force (NDF) and AL-Nusra and Islamic Front fighters who have controlled the main highway there between Hama and Idlib for the last 28 days, cutting a supply route to Syrian Army camps.
The Assad regime is additionally apparently targeting family members of Opposition delegates that took part in the Geneva 2 talks earlier this month and seizing their assets. In particular, Mahmoud Sabra, the brother of Mohammed Sabra who was at Geneva 2, was arrested on unknown charges.
The US State Department has called for the release of all those unfairly held and an end to harassment of those connected with the “peace process”. Today was also the day Robert Ford, the former outspoken US Ambassador to Damascus, retired after 30 years in the United States diplomatic service.
On the chemical weapons front a shipment of mustard gas was delivered to Latakia for transportation and destruction on Wednesday, but the Syrian Government is way behind in its delivery programme, claiming that 2 of its shipments were attacked last month as they crossed the country and 2 other sites were inaccessible because of fighting.
In Istanbul today, the Syrian National Council (SNC) decided at a general assembly to rejoin the Syrian National Coalition (also the SNC) in a sign of stronger Opposition unity. The Council was the largest Opposition block within the Coalition before its resignation over its opposition to Geneva 2.
And lastly, as if Syria did not have enough problems, 19 people out of 59 people afflicted with swine flu have died from the viral infection. Most of the cases are currently concentrated in Hama province.
HEAVY FIGHTING REPORTED IN QALAMOUN AS ASSAD FORCES LOSE 8 TANKS OVER 48 HOURS IN OPPOSITION “PIGEON SHOOT”:
TIMELINE – 26th FEBRUARY 2014 1356 GMT:
Bitter fighting is reported in Damascus province with heavy losses on both sides both to the north and to the east of the Syrian capital.
To the north of Damascus city, in the Qalamoun region, where the Assad regime seeks to secure control of the highway leading to both Lebanon and Homs, activists report that the Government side has lost between 150 – 200 troops (including members of Hezbollah and the National Defence Force) in the last few days. A major and 2 captains belonging to the Syrian Army were reported killed yesterday.
In their attempt to surround and capture the Opposition stronghold of Yabroud, Assad forces are attacking the surrounding Sunni villages. However, they are reported to have suffered heavy losses in an attack on the villages and farms in the Rima area yesterday,Tuesday, just north of Yabroud.
The Opposition are doing well particularly with guided anti-tank missiles (ATGM). These weapons come into the fore in mountainous country where tanks are slow moving and the hills provide cover to get within easy range of the target.
Someone described it as a “pigeon-shoot”. In the last 48 hours the Opposition are reported to have destroyed 8 regime tanks in the Qalamoun region, one of the first six seen, HERE: and numbers 7 and 8, HERE:
The BBC has a video report on the attack on Yarbroud, HERE:
However, east of Damascus at Otaibah, the Assad regime is claiming in its latest reports that they have killed around between 100-150 members of the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Front in an ambush after an “intelligence tip-off”.
Meanwhile in the Yarmouk refugee camp to the south of the capital shocking scenes of deprivation have been reported by representatives of the UN and press crews allowed in recent days, yet since February 9th, very few supplies have made it in there.
UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi, who heads the UN Palestinian Refuges agency, said “It’s like the appearance of ghosts,” at the sight of hundreds of Palestinians flooding towards an aid distribution point at the camp, when he was in the Syrian capital on Monday.
He said the part of the camp he had been able to enter was, “Like a ghost town.The devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now.”
He went to add that the condition of the camp’s remaining 18,000 residents, “Is more shocking even. They can hardly speak. I tried to speak to many of them, and they all tell the same stories of complete deprivation.” Just 60 aid supply packages got in on Monday.
The BBC has a moving report from inside the camp, one elderly lady in tears sobbing, “Please, please take us out, we are dying here”. Watch the report, HERE:
In the Damascus district of Moadamiya, where a truce has been agreed, but which has also been described as an “open-air prison camp”, comes this moving account of life there by a 24 year old who refuses to leave, HERE:
AL-NUSRA ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO ISIL AFTER KILLING OF AL QAEDA EMMISSARY, WHILE ISIL “ALTERS WEEKEND” IN RAQQAH:
In Aleppo heavy fighting is reported around Army Base 80 just to the north of the International Airport and around Al-Aziza just to the south-west of the airfield.
The Opposition are reported to have destroyed 2 tanks within the grounds of Base 80 this morning and activists are claiming that the Opposition have retaken most of strategic Al-Aziza back from regime troops.
In the face of new offensive campaigns from the Assad regime directed to the north-east industrial area of Aleppo and from the south towards the airport, 14 Opposition groups, including the Islamic Front, the Al-Nusra Front and Gesh al-Mojahideen, have announced a joint command to co-ordinate the fight back.
To the north-west of Aleppo, the Opposition, in their continued struggle with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) have declared the area around Azaz (not to be confused with “Al-Aziza” above) to be a “military zone” and reports say that there have been clashes between the 2 sides at the entrance to Azaz town.
The Opposition are also reported to have driven ISIL out of nearby Kafr Naya. Rumours persist that ISIL will withdraw all their fighters from Aleppo province and concentrate them in Raqqah province where they have dominant control.
However, not all is well there with one of the ISIL leaders, Abu Hamza al-Tunsi, and 3 of his men from Saudi Arabia, killed in an IED explosion underneath their car on Monday night near Al Hamra village in eastern Raqqah province.
There are also reports that ISIL has issued a degree in Raqqah changing the weekend to Thursday and Friday instead of Friday and Saturday, thereby putting it out of step with most of the Middle East, and that some of its fighters have been arrested for refusing to fight against the Al Nusra and Islamic Fronts.
The leader of the Al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, also issued a statement yesterday, Tuesday, giving ISIL just 5 days to accept mediation through clerics to end infighting with Opposition groups or be “expelled” from the region.
“By God, if you reject God’s judgement again,” Al-Golani said, “And do not stop your arrogant overlording over the Muslim nation, then [we] will be forced to launch an assault against this aggressive, ignorant ideology and will expel it, even from Iraq.”
The warning came 2 days after the assassination of Abu Khaled al-Suri, who had acted as al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri’s representative in Syria, killed in a twin suicide bomb attack at his HQ in Aleppo and believed to have been carried out by ISIL agents (scroll down – see report below).
In Hasakah province 2 ISIL fighters were reported killed in clashes with the Kurdish militia, the YPG, in Tal-Brak town, between Hasakah and Qamishli, and in Qamishli itself there were other reports of fighting between the YPG and Assad regime forces who still have a precence there.
In the south of Syria, the Opposition offensive in Quneitra not far from the Israeli border, despite regime reinforcements, continues with fighters shelling government positions on Tell Ahmar with a 120 mm mortar, HERE: and destroying a tank convoy that was sent to rescue the soldiers there, HERE:
In Deraa province north-west of #Nawa at Tell al-Jabiyeh, Opposition fighters took control of a Syrian Army base, HERE:
Also in Deraa province near Naima, if you have ever wondered what exactly a barrel-bomb does, take a look at the destruction of an entire flock of sheep hit by one of these crude devices, HERE:
ISRAELI STRIKE ON HEZBOLLAH CONVOY CONFIRMED AMID REPORTS OF MORE MERCENARIES EMPLOYED TO AID ASSAD:
From Lebanon, reports have been slowly emerging of an Israeli strike that took place late on Monday evening near the Lebanese village of Nabi Sheet on the Lebanon/Syria border.
The Israelis are reported to have fired 4 rockets at 2 vehicles, one a rocket launcher and the other transferring rockets to Hezballah’s main rocket storage area. 4 people were reported killed in the attack, though Hezbollah denies this and has this morning, Wednesday, sworn to avenge the attack.
It is not clear whether the Israeli strike took place on the Lebanese side or the Syrian side of the border, but Hezbollah is known to have training camps and bases in the Nabi Sheet area.
While Russia has hypocritically criticised Saudi Arabia this week after reports of the Saudis buying advanced Pakistani weapons to supply to the Syrian Opposition, there are also reports that Hezbollah is involved in guiding east European mercenaries employed to fight on behalf of Assad, from Beirut airport, through the Bekaa valley and Nabi Sheet village and into the Qalamoun region of Syria.
Many of the these mercenaries, who originate from Russia or former Soviet states, are equipped with Hezbollah’s uniforms and trademark yellow headbands to show their loyalty, before being deployed alongside Hezbollah units throughout Damascus province. Opposition fighters have previously reported finding Russian and Iranian passports on dead Hezbollah fighters.
DESPITE A FRENZY OF ASSAD BOMBING ACROSS SYRIA, THE OPPOSITION HOLD THEIR GROUND AND MAKE GAINS IN SOUTHERN PROVINCES:
TIMELINE 24th FEBRUARY 2014 16.52 GMT:
In a frenzy of barrel-bombing and shelling the Assad regime is carrying out campaigns across Syria to drive the civilian population out of Opposition-held areas.
This morning, Monday, 3 regime strikes targeted homes in the town of Nashabiyeh near Damascus, killing 4 civilians in the first 2 explosions and leaving many more under the rubble. The 3rd strike targeted those who ran to the devastated scene to help the injured.
There are also reports that in the truce agreed in the district of Moadamiyeh, nobody is being allowed to leave or enter.
However, in the Qalamoun region between Damascus and Lebanon, the Syrian Government is not getting it all its own way.
Latest reports suggest that Opposition fighters have recaptured positions on the rocky hills surrounding Yabroud, HERE:
Thousands of refugees though have fled the area towards Lebanon, bringing the Sunni town of Arsal on the Lebanese side to breaking point. This article, courtesy of Syrian Freedom, gives a flavour of the atmosphere, HERE:
And near Adra, north-east of the capital, Opposition fighters targetted a bus carrying troops which was on its way the Syrian Army base of Brigade 39, HERE:
Akram al-Bunni, a prominent left-wing writer and a former political prisoner over 2 decades, was arrested by Assad’s intelligence agents as he left a wedding reception in a central Damascus hotel on Saturday, but has since been released again this morning.
As well as trying to subdue the Opposition around Damascus by starvation, truce or barrel-bombing, the Assad Government has also launched new campaigns to recover territory in Deraa and Quneitra provinces to the south.
Opposition fighters have been making progress in Deraa province in recent weeks and are currently trying to invade the eastern side of Deraa city where they are attacking the area near the Central Prison and some large silos. The Government has retaliated by barrel-bombing Opposition positions, HERE:
Heavy clashes are currently ongoing around some mills and the Air Force Intelligence branch, HERE: and the Opposition have succeeded in destroying a caterpillar tractor used by the Government side to build defences and a BMP armoured vehicle, HERE:
Multiple Assad attacks using barrel-bombs on Deraa city and towns and villages across the province has resulted a new flood of Syrian refugees trying to get into JoRdan, (Arabic only) HERE:
In Quneitra province Opposition fighters have taken over an outpost of Brigade 61 near the village of Nasiriyah and Assad forces have been filmed fleeing from the battlefield, HERE:
And at the end of last week, the Opposition took control of the Army base of Infantry Battalion 324.
FIGHTING AROUND ALEPPO CITADEL LEAVES ASSAD TROOPS DEAD, WHILE ISIS MAKE FATAL STRIKE AGAINST JIHADIST RIVAL:
As the latest barrel-bomb killing campaign by the Assad regime on Opposition-held areas took hold, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) in London recorded 50 dead, including 11 children and 5 women, on Saturday alone.
21 of these were in Aleppo where survivors desperately look through rubble for those still alive, HERE:
Near Aleppo Old City, there were heavy clashes around the Palace of Justice and the Citadel, where at least 15 of Assad’s fighters were reported killed, (caution, dead bodies) HERE: Continued fighting infront of the Citadel entrance is reported today, Monday.
Heavy fighting is also reported around Aleppo’s industrial area at Sheikh Najjar to the north-east of the city, while the Assad regime continues to bomb the area around the Central Prison from the air in order to try and drive back the attacking Opposition.
If the Syrian Army regains Sheikh Najjar, then they will be able to use artillery from there to defend the prison and to prevent this the Opposition has sent in reinforcements.
Opposition fighters are also making a sustained attack on the area around the military airport at Nayrab and Aleppo International Airport, HERE:
During the rescue of a victim of Assad regime sniper fire, the sniper attempted to wound or kill the rescuers, HERE:
A car bomb near a field hospital at the border crossing at Atmeh on the Turkish border on Sunday left 12 dead and 64 wounded, while a double suicide attack on the headquarters of Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade left its leader, Abu Khalid al-Suri, dead along with 6 of his colleagues.
Abu Khalid al-Suri, who had fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq, was also the main representative of Al Qaeda in Syria giving allegiance to the movement’s current leader Sheikh al-Zawahiri and its former one, Sheikh Osama bin Laden. His killers are thought to have have come from the breakaway Jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
ASSAD REGIME CONTINUES TO “PROCESS” MEN EVACUATED FROM HOMS, WHILE FAILURE OF GENEVA 2 LEADS TO INTERNATIONAL RETHINK?:
In Homs another 38 men evacuated from the Old City were released from custody by the Assad regime after “processing” on Friday and a further 60 yesterday, Sunday. 181 of the men and boys evacuated last week are still thought to be held and undergoing interrogation by Assad’s intelligence services.
“Their cases will be dealt with this week,” said Talal Barazi, the Assad regime Governor for Homs province, adding that among them are those with an “irregular” legal status – a possible reference to army defectors
On the international front, the UN Security Council finally passed a unanimous vote on Syria on Saturday, including support from Russia and China, calling for the lifting of the sieges on several Syrian cities and for the Assad regime to allow in urgent humanitarian aid.
However, the resolution was non-binding and no sanctions will follow if the Syrian Government refuses to comply. The United States UN ambassador, Samantha Power, released this vigorous statement on the situation, HERE:
Concern is also being expressed across the West and at the UN over the slowness of the Syrian regime in transporting its chemical weapons to the coast for disposal. While an international task force waits expensively and patiently off-shore to remove the chemicals, so far the Syrian Government has released just 11% of the acknowledged and registered stock.
Meanwhile, the failure of the Geneva 2 talks has possibly led to yet another revision in the approach of the US to the “Syrian problem”. There has been increased diplomatic activity between the US, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with reports that the Saudis have ordered large quantities of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons from Pakistan for use by the Syrian Opposition.
Lastly, this interesting opinion piece from the Washington Post reflects on the “collapse of John Kerry’s Syria policy” and says the problem will only be solved by defeating the Assad regime on the ground, HERE:
ASSAD FORCES PUT OPPOSITION STRONGHOLD UNDER MAJOR ATTACK IN ATTEMPT TO SECURE QALAMOUN:
UPDATED TIMELINE 21st FEBRUARY 2014 12.36 GMT:
The Opposition stronghold of Yarbroud in the Qalamoun area of Damascus province, is currently under very heavy attack by Syrian Government forces backed by Hezbollah and Assad’s National Defence Force.
As well as direct assault by troops, artillery shells and rockets are hitting the town plus barrel-bombs from above. Several thousand residents have left for safer territory.
The town is key to Assad’s plan to link Damascus to Lebanon. The only thing that stands in his way are the Sunni held town of Yarbroud and the villages surrounding it, plus the Sunni town of Arsal across the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah claims that all the vehicles used in car bomb explosions in their districts of Beirut have originated in Yarbroud. The latest assault on Yarbroud started on the 12th February. Some of the destruction in the town can be seen, HERE:
The fighting between more moderate Opposition groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) continues.
Latest reports suggest that the moderates are slowly gaining the upper hand, having killed more than 20 members of ISIL in Raqqah province over the last 2 days and recaptured the town of Markadah in Deir Ez-Zour province.
However, a bomb that exploded at the Bab al-Salamah crossing into Turkey, 30 miles north of Aleppo near the Kilis refugee camp, may well have been the work of ISIL agents.
The crossing is controlled by more moderate Opposition fighters and ISIL has a record of taking suicide bomb action against them.
At least 5 people were killed in the explosion and 40 injured taken to hospital in Turkey. This video shows the scene moments after the explosion, HERE:
The Opposition attack on the Aleppo Central Prison continues. This is a video of the BMP armoured vehicle used to attack the prison gates on Wednesday night, HERE:
3 days after an agreed truce between local fighters and the regime in the Babbila suburb of Damascus (scroll down – see below), members of ISIL have torn down the regime flag over the municipality building, trampled on it and burnt it – replacing it with their own black Jihadist flag.
Foreigners, of which the majority of ISIL fighters are, are not usually included in truces between the Government side and local communities where people are starving and in desperate need of supplies. Give local enmity, the foreign fighters usually leave, but in this case it has not happened and the siege conditions are therefore likely to continue.
Lastly, this appeal for support for aid to Syria. Filmed in Norway, secret cameras followed an 11 year old boy who volunteered to sit out in the cold and snow without a jacket at bus stops, just to see how people reacted, here:
OPPOSITION FIGHTERS STRIKE AGAIN IN ALEPPO WITH BOTH SUICIDE AND TUNNEL BOMBS HITTING REGIME POSITIONS:
TIMELINE 20th FEBRUARY 2014 13.57 GMT:
The Opposition attack on Aleppo Central Prison resumed in earnest this morning with another suicide vehicle bomb blown up in the main entrance and 2 other suicide bombers detonating themselves in a building inside the prison grounds.
The bomb blast at the main gate is reported to have killed 8 Syrian Army soldiers and injured 20. The Opposition forces, led by the Al – Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, have come under bombardment from the regime at their positions around the prison, which they now have under siege.
This is the second major suicide bomb attack on the main gate, the first being carried out by a British Jihadist known as Abu Suleiman Al-Britani on February 6th.
This video shows much detail of the attack on February 6th, including a relaxed Al-Britani shortly before he got into the improvised armoured vehicle and drove it into the prison gates, HERE:
Meanwhile in the centre of Aleppo, a further 11 Syrian Army soldiers were killed yesterday, Wednesday, and 10 injured after Opposition fighters detonated yet another bomb in a tunnel not far from the Carlton Hotel in the Al-Safahya area.
This is the third tunnel bomb to have been exploded under central Aleppo in recent days. A tunnel bomb last Friday destroyed part of the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo’s Old City, killing 5 regime soldiers and wounding 18.
The Assad regime has continued with its barrel-bomb campaign, both in Aleppo and elsewhere. The bombs fell on Al-Atareb town yesterday, killing 3 civilians, including a child, and injuring others. Other barrel-bombs were dropped on the Al-Hagez crossing, near Bustan Al-Qaser, with many injuries being reported.
In the 7 days between February 8th and the 14th, the Syrian Government dropped 213 barrel-bombs on Aleppo, the vast majority of them on Masaka Hanano, in an attempt to clear the area for an attempt to retake the city.
This video shows a small boy, covered in dust, crying out for his dead brothers who were killed in Aleppo in one of these attacks in a comprehensive report from NBC, HERE:
AFTER FAILURE OF “PEACE TALKS”, ASSAD REGIME ACCUSED OF USING NEW TYPE OF CLUSTER BOMB:
The Assad regime has also been accused of using a new type of powerful cluster bomb, the 300 mm 9M55K surface-to-surface rocket, a weapon designed and built in Russia that carries dozens of sub-munitions.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the rockets had been identified after an attack on the city of Hama on February 12th and the 13th, which killed 2 civilians and injured 10 more.
Cluster bombs are banned by 113 countries, but these ones used by Syrian forces are three times bigger than anything they have used before.
Clearly the Geneva 2 talks, which collapsed last Friday without any agreement between the 2 sides, have not had any effect on the killing in Syria.
Between the start of Geneva 2 on January 22nd and midnight last Friday 14th (Valentines’ Day!), almost 6,000 people died during that period, including 1622 civilians, 564 of them women or children.
Effectively that’s a daily death rate of approximately 242 people, the highest for any extended period since this conflict began in March 2011.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the total death toll in Syria now stands at 140,000, 50,000 of them civilians and 7,626 of those children.
Most of last week the teams of negotiators from both sides at Geneva 2 could not even agree an agenda, the regime fixated on discussing “terrorism” and the Opposition wanting to move to a discussion on “forming a transitional government”.
Although an agenda was finally agreed for the next round of talks, no date for that meeting has been set.
In Damascus this morning, Thursday, the delivery of UN food supplies to the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee camp resumed today after after being halted since February 9th following clashes between Opposition fighters and the Syrian Army.
Since then, the Palestinians with the camp have negotiated with all non-Palestinian fighters to leave. At least 85 people, mostly elderly or women or young children, have died from malnutrition within the camp.
Another truce was also negotiated in the Damascus suburb of Babbila on Monday, following on from deals in Qudsaya, Moadamiyet al-Sham, Barzeh, Beit Sahem, Yalda and Yarmouk.
The agreements are negotiated by well-known local people from disputed areas, including businessmen and former ministers.
The agreements usually involve a ceasefire, the siege being lifted and food allowed to enter Oppositions-held areas. Opposition fighters in turn have to hand over heavy weapons and agree to the Assad regime raising its flag over the highest point.
A new agreement is also reported for Harasta, in north-east Damascus, and talks over Daraya in the south-west are underway.
CONCERN REMAINS OVER MEN STILL HELD AFTER HOMS EVACUATION, WHILE OPPOSITION PREPARES NEW SPRING DAMASCUS OFFENSIVE:
In Homs, around 11 people were evacuated yesterday, Wednesday, from the Bustan al-Diwan and Al-Hameidiya districts before proceedings were halted again by gunfire. The evacuation was not co-ordinated with the UN but a local agreement between the regime and elders and clerics.
Concern remains in Homs over the fate of 390 men of “weapons bearing age” who were detained last week after being evacuated from Old Homs. 170 have since been released but most of these are not free to “go anywhere of their choice” as promised by the regime as they have been stripped of their standard issued identity cards.
According to Assad’s provincial Governor, Talal Barazi, 179 men still in custody will receive “religious instruction” to “modify their incorrect interpretation of Islam”, along with “support sessions from psychologists” over 4 or 5 days while their “while their files are being examined by the competent authorities”.
Both activists and the UN have particular concern over 14 boys between the ages of 15 and 18 who are still being held.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Opposition fighters are planning a Spring offensive against Damascus, coming from the south where Opposition groups have made good progress in recent months, with back-up coming from Jordan.
According to activists, thousands of Opposition fighters have been receiving combat training in Jordan from CIA and US military advisers.
In anticipation, the Assad regime has in turn re-deployed troops no longer needed to attack Damascus suburbs where a truce is now in place, to Quneitra province near the Israeli border, after Opposition fighters also made recent gains.
At the same time, Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir, who commands the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the south, was controversially appointed as head of the Supreme Military Council last Saturday, replacing General Salim Idriss.
This has led to further divisions in Opposition ranks, with some brigades continuing to support Idriss, who was appointed after a “democratic vote”, and the Syrian National Council backing General Al-Bashir.
For many, Idriss was seen as too close to Qatar, while most of the money and weapons are now coming from Saudi Arabia. A statement from 22 of the 30 members of the FSA Supreme Military Council said complained that Idriss had become “ineffectual” in recent months.
An interesting article on Kilis, where the Turkish Government, without direct UN aid, has built a model refugee camp that is clean, healthy and effective, HERE:
And lastly, a belated Valentine’s Day message to the world from the Syria’s desperate people in Aleppo, here: