AFTER ELECTION ANNOUNCEMENT, OPPONENTS SUGGEST HELPFUL ASSAD CAMPAIGN SLOGANS SUCH AS “VOTE FOR THE BLOOD BA’ATH”:
TIMELINE – 23rd APRIL 2014 12.58 GMT:
Following the announcement of a presidential election in Syria on June 3rd, condemnation has come from the UN, the USA, the UK and other western allies.
Jay Carney speaking for the White House called it a “parody of democracy which would have no legitimacy inside or outside Syria”.
With almost half of Syria’s population displaced and millions living in refugee camps and in other countries, no real vote can take place, though those who have access to a Syrian embassy abroad will be allowed to vote on May 28th.
A spokesman for the Syrian Government has made it clear that there will be no voting in areas controlled by “gunmen”. Effectively then this only leaves voting within Syria in areas controlled by Assad where the vast majority are his supporters.
The Syrian Opposition has described the planned vote, which will predictably return Bashar Al-Assad as President for another 7 year term, as “a farce”.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, speaking on behalf of the General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and UN Special Envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said. “We have repeatedly warned that the holding of elections in the current circumstances, amid the ongoing conflict and massive displacement, will damage the political process and hamper the prospects for a political solution that the country so urgently needs.”
The BBC has a video report.
After appearing in person at the Christian town of Ma’aloula on Sunday, Assad’s election campaign appears to have kicked off in earnest yesterday at Homs – a city he has starved and bombed into submission – with the appearance of pro-Assad posters with his image saying, ironically, “Hand in hand to build Syria”!
In counterpoint Assad’s opponents have launched a Twitter hashtag campaign, #AssadCampaignSlogans, offering alternative slogans that he might like to use.
Classic offerings so far include: “Vote for the blood Ba’ath” : “Don’t Throw Assad out with the Ba’ath water” : “Harnessing chemicals to build a brighter future” : “My family has megatons of experience” : “Putting laughter in Manslaughter since 2011″ : “Keep the Homs Fires Burning” : I will rebuild Syria from the ashes (as soon as I finish burning it completely)”, and many more.
You can follow the latest suggestions at @noneinhere ‘s website, HERE:
This afternoon, Wednesday, it has also been announced in Damascus that Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar MP is to run for president as well. Al-Hajjar represents Aleppo in Parliament and is part of the internal and allowed opposition (EDITOR: Clearly a man who doesn’t mind wasting his time).
CHLORINE GAS NOW ASSAD’S WEAPON OF CHOICE, DESPITE ALMOST 90% OF SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS REMOVED:
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said yesterday that the 17th consignment of Syria’s chemical weapons had been delivered to the port in Latakia for transshipment, bringing to 86.5% the total of agreed stocks to be removed, including 88.7% of the most dangerous compounds, known as Priority 1 chemicals.
However, what seems to have slipped through the net is chlorine gas, an industrial compound, not included in the agreement, but banned as a weapon of war by international treaty after World War 1.
Reports this morning suggest that chlorine gas has been dropped 6 times on Opposition-held areas in April alone, twice on the village of Kafr Zita in Hama province (scroll down – see below), twice near Talmenes in Idlib province – where those injured now exceeds 130 – and more recently on Harasta and Daraya in the suburbs of Damascus.
In the Daraya incident, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) discovered a 70 metre long tunnel being used by Hezbollah and the Syrian Army on the north side of the district to bring in troops and weapons into the area. As they were investigating it, Daraya was hit by a toxic gas, HERE:
Fighting continues to rage in Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside where the Syrian Army launched a campaign to oust Opposition fighters a few days ago, HERE: and heavy bombing continues on Mlieha, HERE:
From Latakia province recent reports say that fighting is continuing with the Opposition making a number of gains.
Clearly Observatory Tower 45 has changed hands yet again with the Oppposition targeting it with a 120mm mortar, HERE:
However, south of Kessab there has been a fierce battle for Mt.Chalma, HERE:
Apparently, according to Opposition sources, as many as 50 pro-Assad fighters were killed and wounded by 15 planted IEDs and the Opposition are now in full control.
Even further south, the Assad regime is also reported to have suffered heavy losses on Mount al-Nisr and additionally there is a report that Hossam Khadra, leader of “Special Assignments” for Assad’s Baath-party in Latakia, has been killed in the Kessab area.
Yesterday, Tuesday, Opposition fighters claimed to have killed 30 of Assad’s forces in the outskirts of Mork (Morek) in Hama province and destroyed both a tank and a BMP armoured vehicle.
In Idlib province Opposition fighters also took over the Mosbah (pool) Barrier south of Khan Shikhoun, currently a heavily contested area, HERE:
In Aleppo, the Assad regime have been able partly to re-open the ring road into west Aleppo and some supplies have been reported to have got through, though the power supply has been off for 4 days. There are however, also reports that some of Assad’s troops have defected at the frontline on the Sheikh Najjar industrial area to the north-east.
WHILE HOMS FIGHTERS CONTINUE TO HOLD OUT AGAINST REGIME, UN REPORTS SERIOUS LACK OF AID SUPPORT:
In Homs, there have been no further reports of advances on either side, but even Opposition diehards expect that eventually the remaining Opposition areas will fall to regime attack or starvation.
Around 1,000 Opposition fighters remain, but morale after such a long campaign has been weakened, and while some would be prepared to surrender, others are still committed to fighting until the end. You can read more, HERE:
In Saudia Arabia yesterday, Tuesday, Ahmed Jarba, head of the Opposition National Coalition, met with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to request more assistance. “The talks focused on continuing the Saudi aid and on the need to strengthen the capacities of the Free Syrian Army [FSA],” said a spokesman.
Meanwhile, the heads of five UN agencies have made a call to both sides in Syria’s conflict to allow aid deliveries countrywide, end siege warfare and halt indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
In Aleppo alone now they estimate there are 1 million in need of assistance and just 40 doctors for a total population of 2.5 million. Previously, prior to 2011, there were 2,000.
The last UN appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has largely been ignored with only $1.2 billion pledged so far.
From Paris the sad story of 150 Syrian penniless refugees who, after wandering the world, have ended up in a small park in a suburb of the French capital, HERE:
And lastly, a full list of the expected presidential candidates for the 2014 Election in Syria:
AGAINST THE ODDS OPPOSITION FIGHTERS ADVANCE IN HOMS TAKING TERRITORY FROM ASSAD FORCES:
TIMELINE – 21st APRIL 2014 12.36 GMT – BRIEF UPDATE ON EASTER MONDAY:
After a week of an all-out assault by Assad’s forces to retake the remaining Opposition held areas of Homs, Opposition fighters in an extraordinary counter-move attacked and captured regime areas.
The action began over the weekend in the Jeb al-Jandali district when some regime troops at a checkpoint defected to the Opposition. This was followed by a Al-Nusra Front (AFN) suicide car bomb attack which killed 5 of Assad’s soldiers.
Soon after Opposition fighters captured a number of buildings, took pro-Assad fighters prisoner, freed some regime held prisoners, including doctors, and found food supplies including pasta and vegetables. For those in besieged areas of Homs who have been living mainly on grasses and herbs, this will be very welcome indeed.
Jeb al-Jandali has been under regime control for the last 18 months and the Opposition attack was clearly unexpected. Video footage is HERE:
There are also unconfirmed reports the Opposition fighters in Homs have advanced to the Zahra district and regained control over the remains of the Khalid Ibn Walid mosque in the Al-Khalidiyya neighborhood.
How long this is sustainable remains to be seen, though they have advanced enough to be only a few hundred metres from a break-out point to the Homs countryside. The regime has hit back with the use of air power on the captured districts.
There is also a report that 10 kilometres north of Homs city east of Talbiseh at the the village of Al-Ghasbiya there have been clashes resulting in the deaths of several Government troops and militia and between Damascus and Homs, some of Assad’s supply trucks were hit and destroyed, HERE:
Other reports suggest the Assad regime is concerned enough by the reversals in Homs to have diverted troops from the campaign in Qalamoun.
ASSAD “CELEBRATES” EASTER BY DROPPING BOMBS ON ALEPPO & VISITING CHRISTIAN MA’ALOULA IN PROPAGANDA MOVE:
In Idlib province, yet another Government toxic gas attack was made on the village of Talmenes village east of Ma’arrat al-Numan injuring more than 100 people. There is video footage, HERE:
A similar attack occurred in the same area on Friday, HERE:
Government planes also bombed a school at Sarmeen, HERE: while another airstrike went astray and apparently killed Assad’s forces near Kafr Bassin.
Yesterday, Sunday, things got even worse in Aleppo where rockets and barrel-bombs rained down on the Old City, Hanano, Kafr Hamra, Ashaar, Al-Halak. Al-Jandoul and Al-Firdous, killing at least 70 people according to reports.
In Ramouseh in western Aleppo, the advancing Opposition also destroyed another tank and killed 15 of Assad’s troops and to the north-east the battle around the Air Force Intelligence HQ continues, HERE:
Meanwhile, as well as dropping barrel-bombs on Aleppo and killing dozens of civilians, President Assad “celebrated” Easter Sunday by visiting the recently recaptured village of Ma’aloula in a propaganda move in “support of Christian minorities” and inspected damage to the ancient monasteries there.
JOKE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ANNOUNCED IN SYRIA FOR JUNE 3rd – BUT NO REAL OPPONENTS ALLOWED:
In Damascus, a presidential election was also announced this morning, Monday, to take place on June 3rd with those overseas allowed to vote in Syrian embassies on May 28th.
Jokingly, presidential candidates are allowed to register from May 1st, though all real opposition has been eliminated as candidates are required to have spent the last 10 years resident in Syria.
In the Damascus countryside, fierce fighting continues on the frontline at Mleiha, HERE: , where an Assad forces HQ was destroyed HERE: and in a Opposition B10 cannon versus a regime B10 cannon in a Mleiha suburb, the Opposition weapon won out, HERE:
In Latakia province, Opposition fighters destroyed a Caterpillar earthmover and a T-72 tank on a hillside near Observatory Tower 45 not far from Kassab, HERE:
4 French journalists believed to have been held in imprisonment for 10 months by the Jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS), were released over the weekend, found by Turkish troops on the Syria/Turkey frontier with their hands bound and their eyes blindfolded.
Fortunately, despite being held for most of the period in a basement devoid of natural light, little food and for a time chained together, they appear to be in remarkably good condition. Didier Francois, one of the released captives, spoke to the BBC, HERE:
OPPOSITION, FIGHTING ON ALL FRONTS IN ALEPPO, MAKE EXPLOSIVE DAWN ATTACK ON SYRIA’S LARGEST ARMY BASE:
TIMELINE – 18th APRIL 2014 12.41 GMT
Heavy fighting continues on all fronts in Aleppo with Opposition fighters making a daring raid on the Hanano barracks in the centre of the city.
At dawn on Thursday, Opposition fighters detonated explosives in 3 tunnels that they dug under the huge, sprawling Hanano military base, HERE:
Almost 50 men were killed in the attack that followed, 27 of them Syrian Army troops and pro-regime militia and 20 from the Opposition side including a commander.
Hanano is one of the largest bases in Syria and strategically important as it sits on a hill overlooking Opposition supply routes across the north of the city.
SANA, the Syrian state media, claimed that the attack had been foiled and that the Syrian Army “had blown up the tunnels” but the base is so large we will have to wait on further details to know the true outcome, though it is unlikely the Opposition could have gained complete control in such a short time.
At Al Jazira, west of Aleppo near the military research centre Opposition fighters captured an injured member of the regime side but seem to be treating him well, HERE:
In southern Aleppo, Opposition fighters prevented a regime convoy on the ring road from approaching the Sadkop Army base which they had captured earlier in the week and succeeded in destroying several of their vehicles. A 10 minute video of the Ramouseh battle can be seen, HERE:
Elsewhere in Aleppo the Opposition have been holding their positions and firing back on the regime as seen (exact location unknown), HERE:
Just before dawn on Thursday, Opposition tanks also fired on the Air Intelligence headquarters in the north-west of Aleppo, scoring a number of direct hits, (starts in dark) HERE:
Heavy fighting is also reported again this morning, Friday, in the area of the Citadel above Aleppo Old City.
Interesting piece in Al-Monitor from “Edward Dark” who is based in Aleppo and spent an evening with off-duty Assad regime troops. Quietly they tell him that they would have lost a recent battle in the Zahra district of Aleppo if they had not received reinforcements from Hezbollah, HERE:
SANA, Assad’s media, reports that Opposition rocket attacks on the Al-Sulaimaniyeh, Al-Maidan and Maisaloun districts killed 21 on Thursday, including a child, and wounded 80.
DESPITE ASSAD SUPPOSEDLY GIVING UP 65% OF ITS CHEMICAL WEAPONS STOCKS, GAS ATTACKS CONTINUE TO OCCUR IN HAMA AND DAMASCUS SUBURBS:
In a wave of new chemical attacks in the last week, the Syrian Government has not only dropped cylinders containing chlorine gas on the village of Kfar Zeita (scroll down – see below) in Hama province last Friday and Saturday, but has now attacked the Opposition-held suburb of Harasta near Damascus on Wednesday, HERE:
This is the 4th attack this month using chlorine, a banned substance for use in warfare, though widely used in the chemical industry, including treating water. A chlorine (CL2) tank can be seen attached to a barrel-bomb dropped on Kfar Zeita, HERE:
The Syrian Government has just submitted a more detailed list of its chemical weapons stocks to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and has been given to April 27th to deliver all its admitted stocks to the port of Latakia for onward transmission and destruction.
All of Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons are to be destroyed by June 30th. The 13th shipment of Syria’s chemical stocks was delivered to Latakia port on Monday, meaning that around 65% has been sent for destruction.
(EDITOR: No consolation for the people of Kfar Zeita and Harasta who continue to be attacked by this barbaric regime indiscriminately using chemicals on civilians.)
(EDITOR: I suspect being tank crew is not the most popular choice in Assad’s Army right now, especially after the new US made anti-tank missile news! Scroll down – see below for more on this.)
Opposition fighters are also reported to be shelling the State Security branch in Idlib city, with columns of thick smoke rising from the area.
Near Deir Ez-Zour military airport at Al-Mazare’ Opposition fighters are said to have killed 20 of Assad’s troops and to have taken control of the area.
In Quneitra province having captured one of the 3 hills at Tel Al-Ahmar several days ago, the Opposition have now captured a 2nd one, discovering an interesting, fully equipped command and control centre, HERE:
And having gained control of most of Quneitra province, some of the Opposition have now moved on to adjacent Sweida province, where most of the population come from the Druze sect and a number of explosions near regime installations have been reported.
In Latakia heavy shelling is reported by the regime on the area around Kessab and an ongoing fierce battle for control of Teshalama tower.
ON #INTERNATIONAL_HOMS_DAY ASSAD DEFIES ATTEMPTS TO GET INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT AND BOMBS HELL OUT OF THE CITY:
On the Jihadist front it was reported this week that the head of the Al Nusra Front (AFN) in Idlib province, Abu Mohammed al-Ansari, was assassinated on Tuesday night along with his wife, daughter, brother and niece in a house in Ras al-Hosn in northern Syria.
The 4 man assassination team is believed to have come from the rival extreme Jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS). AFN fighters killed one attacker and captured two more, while the fourth blew himself up.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Jordanian Air Force destroyed a number of armed pick-up trucks in the desert on their side of the Syrian/Jordanian border after they “failed to stop after being requested to do so”. It is not clear if they were Syrian Opposition fighters manoeuvring near the border or weapon smugglers.
While in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee camp some miserable refugees there are saying they would rather go back home to Syria and face death than stay in the increasingly poor conditions in Jordan.
Abu Isam, 52, said, “Nobody cares about Syrian refugees – the world has fooled us. They said our crisis will not last long. Now I feel a solution to our dilemma is impossible”. You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, today, 18th April, is International Homs day, so if you would like to join the campaign to save the remaining civilians still trapped in Opposition parts of the city Tweet the hashtag #International_Homs_day
Following this week’s renewed attempt on 4 fronts to wipe out the Opposition fighters remaining in and around Homs Old City, which failed with serious loss of life on the regime side, negotiations to release the remaining trapped civilians have also failed.
The result of the current dreadful shelling on what is left of Homs can be seen,here:
UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, speaking in Geneva said, “It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand. It is alarming that Homs, whose people have suffered so much throughout these past three years is again the theatre of death and destruction.”
This week’s failed ground attack was preceded by hundreds of shells, which continue to fall. Despite repelling Assad’s troops yet again, activists say that unless the remaining Opposition fighters receive outside help soon they will have to surrender, as some already have, or be killed.
FIGHTING SPREADS AROUND ALEPPO AS OPPOSITION RE-OPEN ANOTHER FRONT NEAR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT:
TIMELINE – 16th APRIL 2014 12.58 GMT – UPDATED 20.51 GMT:
Keeping Assad’s forces under pressure in western Aleppo, Opposition fighters have continued their simultaneous assault on several fronts, with intense battles reported around Brigade 80 and the Aleppo International Airport today.
On Monday the Opposition captured the strategic Sadkop Army base on the Ramouseh industrial area ring road and the Sadkop Fuel Depot, HERE:
The Opposition have also isolated 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) of the ring road, thereby preventing Assad’s forces from reinforcing or supplying parts of regime-held west Aleppo.
Opposition fighters also captured a regime stronghold in Ramouseh seizing weapons, ammunition and gas masks, HERE:
In north-west Aleppo, Opposition fighters have kept up their attack on the area around the Air Intelligence HQ, the building believed to be a major command and control centre as well as holding thousands of prisoners.
On Monday, the Opposition closed the the Karaj al-Hafez crossing in Bustan al-Qasr, the main link between the two halves of the city because of a “constant threat from pro-Assad snipers” and the electricity outage reported earlier was blamed on an Assad barrel-bomb hitting a high voltage tower.
Barrel-bombs have also destroyed another Opposition field hospital in eastern Aleppo in what seems deliberate targeting.
Disturbing reports are also emerging from Aleppo Central Prison, north of Aleppo, and still completely surrounded by Opposition fighters. According to the Violations Documentation Centre, at least 800 prisoners have died there in the last year from malnutrition and illness.
Many think this is a conservative figure after reports that a lot more of the estimated 2,400 inmates, including women and children, have been denied food and medical treatment.
In another sign of regime nervousness, the Deputy Director of Assad’s Aleppo Military Academy, Colonel Mohammed Dargham, is reported to have fled the city and yesterday helicopters dropped 18 barrel bombs on various parts of Aleppo.
In this footage, Opposition forces are firing Grad missiles at regime positions in the Sheikh Najjar industrial area in the Aleppo north-eastern outskirts, HERE:
And as Opposition fighters battle their way into the north-western Al-Zahraa area an interesting contrast can be seen between the elegant blocks of flats in unbombed Alawite areas compared with the basic concrete constructions in Sunni areas (now mostly destroyed), HERE: and HERE:
This map, courtesy of @PetoLucem, from April 13th, shows all the areas talked about above (note large Green arrows of Opposition advance). For and enlarged version click, HERE and then click the map again:
LARGE SHIPMENT OF US ANTI-TANK WEAPONS AIDS OPPOSITION BUT COMES TOO LATE TO HELP HOMS:
The Opposition advance in Aleppo may have been helped by the arrival of US TOW anti-tank missile launchers (ATGM), 20 of which are reported to have been given to moderate Opposition groups in Aleppo and Idlib.
The TOW ATGM are seen as vastly superior and more accurate than other makes. Activist reports say that the Harakat Hazm Brigade launched five of those rockets to destroy four tanks and win a recent battle in the Idlib suburbs of Babulin and Salheiya. The TOW is seen in action again, HERE:
In current battles south-east of Idlib city at Qmenas, 17 of Assad’s troops have been killed and 30 others wounded during their attempt to storm the town but at the cost of 21 Opposition deaths as well.
In an attempt to completely regain control of Homs, the Syrian Army has mounted another major attack on the remaining Opposition-held areas of the city where there are thought to be around 1300 people remaining, mostly Opposition fighters.
This morning reports say that the regime have mobilised hundreds of troops at the police headquarters in the heart of the city as a step towards a new ground operation. The Opposition has also released a statement accusing the regime’s forces of violating the agreement reached between them which would allow their fighters to exit from the city.
Yesterday, regime troops entered Wadi Al-Sayeh, which lies between Juret Al-Shiyah and the Old City, their first major advance since the summer of 2013. The advance was preceded by heavy air attacks, particularly on Al-Wa’er, seen HERE: and HERE:
However, unconfirmed reports say that as many as 40 pro-Assad fighters were killed on a failed attack on the Bab Houd front yesterday.
In the Damascus region, the Syrian Government has dropped more than 14 barrel bombs on Zabadani in the last 2 days, killing at least 4 people, as it continues its campaign to clear the Qalamoun region of all Opposition.
In the same area, due north of the Syrian capital, the regime took control of the village of Assal al-Ward yesterday and Housh Arab today, but at Ma’aloula, 3 crew from Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station were killed, probably caught, according to latest reports, in regime “friendly fire”.
In an interesting report, one of Iran’s top military figures is quoted as saying this week that if it hadn’t been for Iran’s intervention, Assad would have been toppled by now, HERE:
INTERESTING “STATE-ALIGNED” PRISONERS CAPTURED IN DEIR EZ-ZOUR, WHILE UN STUNNED BY “CAESAR REPORT” ON ASSAD TORTURE AND KILLING:
In Deir Ez-Zour province Opposition fighters have destroyed the headquarters of Assad’s forces in the Shuhada district on the western edge of city and once again targeted the Deir Ez-Zour military airport with mortars, with regime loss of life.
Fighting in the oil-rich province also continues between the more moderate Opposition and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS). 20 fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra and more moderate Islamic battalions ( including a leader of the Al-Islam brigade ) were killed in clashes with ISIL in the town of Sor, which is now completely under ISIL control.
Interestingly, there is an unconfirmed report from a similar battle at Taiana that 4 “ISIL fighters” captured there have turned out to be members of Assad’s loyalist army, Maher Al-Assad’s 4th Division. At the moment they are still in the hands of the Al-Nusra Front and “are being well-treated”. If true this could have interesting repercussions.
In Hama province a very fierce battle continues for control of the strategic Hama to Aleppo highway town of Morek (sometimes called Mork) with heavy losses on both sides. 5 airstrikes and 20 barrel-bombs have fallen on the town this week in an attempt to dislodge the Opposition.
In Quneitra province, now 70% controlled by the Opposition, Opposition fighters having taken the western part of Tell Ahmar, are shelling Assad’s forces on the eastern Tell, HERE:
Lastly, at the UN yesterday, members of the UN Security Council, including the Russian and Chinese representatives, watched a presentation of the “Caesar Report”, sponsored by Qatar, which documents the deaths of 11,000 people who died in Assad regime jails between 2011 and 2013. The report contains some 55,000 images depicting abuse of victims including starvation and torture.
“Caesar” is the code name for a former Assad Government employee who was charged with photographing all the dead emanating from regime detention centres. He recorded the images and transmitted them to the Opposition.
Two of the experts who examined the photos and authenticated claims made by the defector say the dossier represents credible evidence to be put before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The pictures are from just 3 detention centres – there are believed to be at least 50 in total in Syria.
French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said that there was complete silence for several minutes after the report was shown and his Government intends to bring forward a motion at the Security Council referring the matter to the ICC. US UN Ambassador Samantha Power said, “Nobody who sees these images will ever be the same.”
EDITOR: My original post on this is HERE:
And Al Jazeera has a video report (Caution – Graphic Images), HERE:
OPPOSITION PUSHING FURTHER INTO SOUTH-WEST ALEPPO – SURPRISINGLY UNSCATHED COMPARED WITH BARREL-BOMBED EAST:
TIMELINE – 14th APRIL 2014 12.48 GMT:
Over the weekend the Opposition have continued to push into south-western Aleppo, strengthening their positions by taking streets and apartment blocks in Al-Sherfee.
The Opposition are now well inside the regime district of Zahra, which is relatively unscathed compared with the barrel-bombed eastern half of Aleppo city, HERE:
The fighters have since taken several more buildings in Zahra neighbourhood and are attacking the Al-Sherfee area to be in a better position to lay siege to the Artillery Academy, HERE:
An Opposition tank-howitzer also targeted the Sadkop (military) base in Ramouseh, HERE: which unconfirmed reports say has been captured this morning, Monday.
Another tour of Zahra, with minimal damage, can be seen, HERE:
On Sunday, a regime reinforcement convoy on the highway at Sheikh Said, just east of Ramouseh, was attacked, but other Syrian Army and National Defence Force troops did get through to the Air Force Intelligence building which is the Opposition’s main target.
There has additionally been a major power cut to electricity supplies which may herald an even larger Opposition attack and for the first time civilians from western Aleppo have started to move to the Opposition-held east.
There are reports of a severe bread shortage in regime-held western Aleppo, possibly exacerbated by Opposition control of the bakery checkpoint in Ramouseh where the Syrian Army were found to have been using full flour bags for barricades.
The Opposition also brought down this small drone near the Artillery Academy, HERE:
ASSAD REGIME ONCE AGAIN ACCUSED OF DROPPING POISONOUS GAS ON CIVILIANS IN HAMA PROVINCE:
At Kafr Zita in Hama province on Friday, a series of barrel bombs were dropped indiscriminately by Assad’s helicopters on the town, releasing clouds of smoke and debris with a distinctive yellow tinge, HERE:
Activists said the barrel-bombs contained cylinders with Chinese markings and the designa-
tion CL2, or chlorine gas, HERE: Two people were reported to have died and up to 100 were injured.
Unusually, the Assad regime admitted a chlorine attack on Kafr Zita (before anyone else had said which gas was involved) but blamed it on the Al-Nusra Front (ANF).
EDITOR: As far as we know the ANF do not have any operational helicopters – especially ones which pass across Syria undetected by Assad’s Air Force.
The regime is desperate to regain the area as it commands their supply route from Hama to Aleppo. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
In Deraa province, Opposition fighters have destroyed a regime tank inside the Brigade 52 base near Al-Harak, HERE:
They also hit a regime convoy loaded with munitions, with an IED device and killed a dozen of Assad’s troops in the Sheikh Sa‘d area south of Nawa.
Within Deraa city itself heavy fighting was reported again near the Palace of Justice.
FIGHTING IN LATAKIA GOES SUSPICIOUSLY QUIET AS ASSAD REGIME CLEARS ALAWITE VILLAGES – LATAKIA CITY GETS NERVOUS:
In Lattakia province, rather suspiciously, fighting has gone rather quiet apart from this video footage released this morning Monday of Opposition fighters firing mortars at regime positions, HERE:
There are reports of Alawite villages being evacuated in northern Latakia and along the coast, so one wonders what the Assad regime has in mind? Hopefully not more chemical weapons.
For the first time Latakia city is now full of displaced refugees sleeping in local schools and nervousness among the general population in increasing, HERE:
In Damascus province, Syrian Government forces are said to have recaptured Sarkha and Ma’aloula in the Qalamoun this morning, Monday, though earlier reports said that Opposition fighters had withdrawn.
Ma’aloula is particularly significant as it is a famous Christian village where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
The Al-Nusra Front captured 12 nuns from the village in December and exchanged them for the release of many women prisoners held by Assad. The nuns said they had been genuinely “well-treated” – much to the annoyance of the Assad regime who were unable to make any PR capital out of the abduction.
Around Damascus city the Syrian Air Force has kept up a relentless rocket and barrel-bomb attack on the Opposition suburbs, particularly those east of the capital. In Douma barrel-bombs hit a crowded market place killing at least 5 children among other victims.
The Opposition town of Mleiha has been bombed for 10 consecutive days as regime troops try to break in, though there are reports they have reached the outskirts.
The Opposition brought their own tank into play, HERE:
Despite all the above, delusional President Assad made a speech at Damascus University on Sunday claiming his army was “winning the war against terror”.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country,” he said.
This confidence is not reflected on the currency markets where the value of the Syrian pound dropped to 176 to the US dollar on Sunday from 156 a few days earlier. Since March 2011, the Syrian pound has lost more than three-quarters of its value against the US currency.
And lastly a group supporting the Syrian Opposition have made an animation about how the extreme Jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) are “manufactured”, (Arabic only) here:
OPPOSITION FIGHTERS MAKING SIGNIFICANT ADVANCES IN SOUTH-WEST ALEPPO, HOMING IN ON AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE HQ:
TIMELINE – 11th APRIL 2014 13.58 GMT:
Far from “Assad winning” as the mainstream international media seems to like to portray the situation, the Syrian Opposition continues to make significant advances, notably this week in south-west Aleppo.
In the last 2 days, Opposition fighters have captured the Red Crescent building and the Ramouseh garages and are now at the gates of the Artillery Academy.
Their target is the massive Air Force Intelligence building in the Zahra district, probably one of the most fortified buildings in Aleppo, which they now have surrounded, seen here with (for the moment) the regime flag flying, HERE:
There are believed to be hundreds of regime prisoners inside. This morning, Friday, reports also say that the Opposition have captured the huge Ramouseh roundabout, thereby cutting off the Aleppo ringroad and blocking the route for any regime reinforcements.
To the south in Idlib province, Opposition fighters have also blocked the Hama to Aleppo highway east of Hish, which feeds directly into this south-west corner of Aleppo city.
In their move towards the Air Force Intelligence HQ, the Opposition fighters have also taken the Technical Institute, HERE: and a bit further to the south they destroyed a tank at the “School of Wisdom” barrier.
The regime is rather desperately attacking Opposition positions around the Air Intelligence building but 2 barrel-bombs are reported to have fallen on Syrian Army Positions instead killing more than 20 of their troops in Al-Zahra district at the Finance Roundabout.
So nervous are Assad’s officers of this development that there are unconfirmed reports that some of them are moving their house furniture to homes on the coast in Latakia. There is also a report that “Ghazi al-Tamimi”, a commander of the Shiite Iraq’i Badr pro-Assad militia, was killed in the Aleppo fighting.
On the relief side of things, a IHH-Qatar Charity project opened 200 “container houses” in Aleppo yesterday and starting today, the same organisation is co-ordinating the arrival of 300 truck loads of aid into northern Syria, supported by 30 non-governmental organisations and 15 countries.
In Idlib province, as well as blocking the highway to Aleppo, Opposition fighters blew up a booby trapped building in the Shiite enclave of Al-Fu’ah, north-east of Idlib city, HERE: and in Hama province, east of Hama city, they took the barrier of Sheikh Hilal.
In Latakia fighting continues around Observatory Tower 45 with the regime pounding surrounding hills and Opposition positions with air attacks and mortars, while in Quneitra province a “quiet war” has seen the Opposition capture 70% of the region following their takeover over of the Ahmar Hills on Monday.
More information in this interview from a Quneitra based activist, courtesy of EAWorldview, HERE:
Courtesy of Cedric Labrousse, the latest map of the situation around Aleppo. For a larger version click, HERE: and then click the map again:
NO OPPOSITION CAPITULATION AROUND DAMASCUS, HEAVY FIGHTING ALL OVER PROVINCE:
In the Qalamoun area not far from Damascus, Opposition fighters claimed yesterday they had brought down a regime MIG fighter aircraft near Bakh`ah, south-west of Yabroud and this afternoon, Friday, there is a report of second aircraft brought down in Ghouta.
Additionally, latest reports say that 6 tanks have been destroyed at Bakh’ah and 30 pro-Assad Shabiha killed.
Fierce battles are still continuing today near the farms surrounding the town of Rankous, where the Opposition is saying that the Syrian Army is using a different type of bomb with phosphorous like behaviour and a foul smell, seen HERE:
In a more humourous moment in Qalamoun this Opposition fighter played a dangerous game of “shoot the hat”, encouraging pro-Assad troops to waste their ammunition, HERE:
In the Eastern Ghouta region, just outside the Syrian capital, where the Syrian Army have launched a new campaign, Opposition fighters started attacking the 137th artillery regiment base in the Khan Al-Shaykh suburb this week, HERE: and HERE:
Latest reports this morning,Friday, say that the Opposition have now killed 15 of Assad’s troops inside the base and captured 7 others.
At Mleiha, Opposition fighters repelled a massive night attack by Iraqui pro-Assad militia, HERE: and dozens of rockets, mortars and barrel-bombs have been hurled at the town to try and break Opposition resistance.
This video shows up to 15 minutes worth of the battles at Mleiha, HERE:
South-south-west of Damascus, there was heavy fighting around the Khan-Dannoun Palestinian Refugee Camp, which Opposition fighters claim to be in complete control of today.
In the mainly Alawite area of Karam al-Luz in Homs city yesterday 2 car bombs exploded killing 25, including women and children, and injuring 107.
In the deadly blast, the second bomb went off half an hour after the first injuring Red Crescent workers sent to help. The BBC has a video report, HERE:
ISIS ATTACK OTHER OPPOSITION FIGHTERS FOR CONTROL OF BORDER TOWN BUT DRIVEN OFF WITH MASSIVE LOSS OF LIFE:
In Deir Ez-Zour province, members of the Islamic Front of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) made a surprise dawn attack on Thursday against other Opposition fighters in an attempt to take control of the border town of Albu Kamal on the Syria/Iraq frontier.
At first ISIL gained the upper hand pushing into the town but have since been driven back at heavy cost as Al Nusra Front and Islamic Front reinforcements poured in. Estimates today Friday are that 86 people have been killed in the fighting so far.
ISIL, who had been trying to link up with ISIL in Iraq who are even stronger, have withdrawn to the T2 oil site, 60 kilometres (35 miles) south-west of Albu Kamal but not before executing a number of their rivals.
At the border crossing itself the more moderate Opposition fighters retained control throughout but the Iraqi Army on the other side dug themselves in and put up blast walls to avoid involvement or explosive damage.
In the Jafra Oil Field 30 bodies have been found in a mass grave, also thought to have been executed by ISIL.
Elsewhere in the province opposition fighters are reported to have taken control of the main highway near Deir Ez-Zour military airport.
Lastly, the final word, as often on this blog, goes to the good people of Kafranbel in Idlib province, here:
OPPOSITION ADVANCE IN SOUTHERN ALEPPO, WHILE UN DELIVER 1st RELIEF SUPPLIES TO EASTERN SUBURBS FOR 10 MONTHS:
TIMELINE – 9th APRIL 2014 13.35 GMT:
The I’Tassam campaign launched on Monday by Opposition fighters in south-west Aleppo is targeting 5 military installations on the western and southern approaches to the city.
So far they have taken control of a major regime supply road and large parts of the southern suburb of Aqrab. On Tuesday Opposition fighters shelled the “School of Wisdom” barrier with a tank, HERE:
The Opposition also launched numerous rockets and mortars against the regime-held Halab al-Jadida neighbourhood and also on the Assad Miltiary Academy in Al-Hamdaniya.
“We are just around the corner from the city of Aleppo,” Lieutenant Colonel Abu Bakr of Jaish al-Mujahideen said. “The (southern) suburbs are no more than one kilometre from Aleppo.”
Opposition fighters also took over another building near the Air Security branch in Al-Layrmoun and targeted another regime checkpoint in the village of A’ziza.
Opposition sources report that 36 bodies, including five women and 15 children (including the baby pictured) have been found under the rubble of 3 buildings which were destroyed by Assad’s barrel-bombs 4 days ago.
Additionally Wednesday, Syria’s Red Crescent and the UN refugee agency UNHCR were able to deliver to Opposition-held areas of Aleppo city for the first time in 10 months.
Given access to the Jisr al-Haj crossing between West and East Aleppo, all the goods, including food, blankets and health kits, were moved by hand carts as the crossing was too narrow for trucks to pass through.
75 workers pulling carts “back and forth one and a half kilometre each way…in 270 trips” moved the goods to a warehouse to be distributed in the eastern Opposition areas later.
OPPOSITION MAY HAVE TO ACCEPT LOSS OF TERRITORY IN QALAMOUN REGION AND EXPAND CAMPAIGN INSTEAD IN NORTH AND SOUTH SYRIA:
In the Qalamoun region of Damascus province between the capital and the Lebanese border, things are not so clear cut, with the regime still advancing on Opposition towns and villages.
Yesterday the Syrian Army gained control of Radar Hill overlooking the Opposition-held town of Rankous and this morning, Wednesday, around 100 shells have rained down on the suburbs of the town. In fact, in later reports today, the Syrian Army is claiming they have taken the town and “restored stability”.
4 barrel-bombs were also dropped yesterday on the military observatory hill held by the Opposition south-west of Rankous and north-west of Saidnaya.
It may be that Opposition supporters will have to accept that the holding of major towns and villages in the Qalamoun region is no longer possible, given the energy and superior air and artillery power the Assad regime, strongly supported by Hezbollah, has thrown at it.
However, with the very rugged and mountainous nature of the terrain, hit and run attacks are still possible. Opposition fighters are still reported to be having some success around Ras Al-Ein and in this video they attacked a regime force as it was trying to set up a new barrier, HERE:
In central Damascus, Opposition brigades have continued to fire mortars and rockets on regime held areas, many of which have until recently been able to ignore what was going on in other parts of the city. In this video a missile is fired at a building being used by the military near the Abbasiyyin Stadium, HERE:
Good to also report that more food supplies entered the Yarmouk Refugee Camp yesterday and were distributed to residents still trapped there.
Atmospheric piece worth reading in the New Yorker on how the 3 years of war is now piercing the bubble down at the Zeriab Cafe in central Damascus, HERE:
ASSAD BURBLES ABOUT “CONCERN OVER ENDING BLOODSHED”, WHILE UN HR CHIEF LAYS MAJORITY BLAME FOR ABUSES AT HIS DOOR:
Little news to report from Latakia where the Opposition still seem to be holding there own. However, the regime claims they regained hold of Al-Haramiyeh mountain, but they are suddenly very quiet about Observatory Tower 45.
Ominously, there were reports on Tuesday of as many as 1500 fighters arriving at Beirut airport from Armenia, presumably having been pumped up by untrue reports of “massacres” in the Armenian town of Kasab.
Iran is reported to have delivered 30,000 tons of food via ports in Latakia to shore up the crumbling food production and distribution infrastructure in Syria.
Adding to that, the UN is also predicting a very poor wheat harvest in northern Syria following almost drought conditions in the winter.
The UN World Food Programme is currently spending $40 million a week to feed Syrians inside the country and refugees outside. With a failing harvest this year and continuing warfare this problem is only set to get worse with possibly the complete collapse of the agricultural sector.
In Quneitra province to the south, where the Opposition have been making strong headway recently, fighters captured the regime-held Tel Ahmar hill, taking prisoners, HERE: and seizing a number of anti-tank missile launchers plus other equipment and ammunition, HERE:
In Idlib province there were 2 suicide attacks by the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) on Syrian Army emplacements, this one blowing up part of a military refuelling base near Khan Sheikhoun (at 0.20 seconds), HERE:
In Deraa province, Opposition fighters yesterday attacked a regime barrier near Mahajah in an attempt to cut the main highway to Damascus.
On the political front, President Assad, who no doubt working up to announcing his candidacy for the 2014 presidential elections, said on Monday at the 67th Anniversary of the Syrian Ba’ath Party, that, “The project of political Islam has failed, and there should be no mixing between political and religious work.”
He also said his government was “continuing with the process of reconciliation, because what concerns us is ending the bloodshed and the destruction of infrastructure” (EDITOR: Of which Assad is primarily the source!).
Omran Al-Zohbi, Assad’s Information Minister, announced late on Monday that candidates for this year’s presidential elections can submit their applications in the last 10 days of April. The elections are due to be held before June.
Delusionally, Al-Zohbi went on to add that “The overwhelming majority of Syrians are pressing and calling for President Bashar al-Assad to continue to lead the country as president of the republic,” and that nothing, “whether security, military, political, internal or external” will be allowed to prevent the election being held on time.
Despite legislation allowing other candidates to stand for first time, a ruling that excludes anyone who has not lived in Syria for the last 10 years means that almost all the Opposition leaders will be ineligible as candidates.
Lastly, in clear condemnation of Assad’s fitness to stand again as Syria’s leader, Navi Pillay, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights made it clear yesterday that she thought the Syrian Government was mainly responsible for human rights abuses in Syria.
While acknowledging that neither the Opposition nor the Syrian government was blameless when it comes to rights violations, she said that nevertheless “you cannot compare the two sides.”
“It is the government that is mostly responsible for the violations and all these perpetrators should be identified [for]…referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC)”.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Pillay said, “Criminal justice must be seized. The UN Security Council must be able to unite around the simple idea that terrible crimes have been committed and that they must be punished ….There has to be justice and accountability and the situation in Syria should not be allowed to slip through the cracks.” (EDITOR: HEAR! HEAR! I Agree wholeheartedly)
Assad’s UN Ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, dismissed Navi Pillay comments as “biased” and burbled on about “terrorist acts in Kasab” of which no-one has evidence.
OPPOSITION FIGHTERS SUCCESSFULLY BLOCK HAMA/IDLIB HIGHWAY & KNOCK OUT ASSAD TANKS WITH NEW US WEAPONS:
TIMELINE – 7th APRIL 2014 13.59 GMT:
In Idlib province Assad’s forces are taking a pounding north of Hama as Opposition fighters gained control of the town of Babuleen over the weekend and then moved on to capture the village of Salehia to the south-west.
Opposition fighters seen in Babaleen, HERE: have already captured an ammunition depot east of Hish and are now attacking the barriers around Hish town.
Occupation of this area gives the Opposition complete control over the Hama to Idlib/Aleppo highway, HERE: and prevents the regime from easily resupplying its surrounded bases of Wadi Deif and Hamidiyah near Ma’arrat al-Numan to the north.
Battles along the highway have allowed the Opposition fighters to destroy at least 4 armoured vehicles using anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and capture 3 tanks and a BMP armoured vehicle, HERE:
At Khan Sheikhoun, south of Hish on the same highway, 15 of Assad’s soldiers are reported to have defected from the Sayyad checkpoint.
Across Syria the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) recorded 295 deaths on Saturday and 303 on Sunday, a horrific total for 2 days.
In the Damascus area Opposition fighters took over a yeast factory at Shebaa in Eastern Ghouta on Friday, not far from the International Airport road, and started another new assault at Bait Jin to the south-west of the capital.
On Sunday, Opposition mortar rounds hit the Opera House in central Damascus, killing 2 and wounding 5 and setting vehicles on fire. On Saturday mortars also hit the Russian Embassy causing some material damage but no injuries.
In the Qalamoun area, Opposition fighters are reported to have exploded a car bomb at a check point at Ras Al-Ein giving them the opportunity for some advance in the area, while regime forces concentrate their troops on attacking the Opposition stronghold of Rankous.
NERVOUS ASSAD REGIME, UNABLE TO REMOVE OPPOSITION FROM NORTH, MOVES TROOPS FROM OTHER LATAKIA POSITIONS:
In Latakia, it is not completely clear who is in control of Observatory Tower 45 at this point, but the last information on Friday showed Opposition fighters once again immediately below the 2 tower masts, HERE: and HERE:
While Government forces continue to shell Kessab and other Opposition positions it does not look like that the Assad regime has made any advance in the province over the weekend.
Reinforcement convoys coming from the east have been heavily attacked and activist reports say the Syrian Army units are having to leave bases around Tartous, Jibla and Latakia to bolster their strength in the north of the province. In a sign of nervousness, there are also new reports of the construction of new defensive ditches and canals around Latakia city.
According to activist reports, 45 of Assad’s elite force (Suqur AL Sahra) have been killed in fighting near Kessab and Opposition fighters have been firing missiles at the Al-Hamimim airport, where large numbers of Iranian and Iraqi pro-Assad militia are believed to be stationed.
Opposition fighters based in Kessab have additionally been firing Grad missiles on to Government positions at Qastal Ma’af to the south, HERE:
In Deraa city a massive barrel-bomb explosion was recorded yesterday, HERE: , while in nearby Quneitra province the Opposition have started a campaign called “Echo of Anfal” to copy Opposition successes in Latakia and to try and take regime positions on Tell Ahmar, just east of the Golan Heights.
WELL KNOWN PRIEST ASSASSINATED IN HOMS, WHILE OPPOSITION LAUNCH NEW CAMPAIGN IN WEST ALEPPO:
In Aleppo, Opposition fighters also announced a new campaign to take the western approaches to Aleppo city and this morning, Monday, have already claimed that in clashes at Rashedeen, 38 of Assad’s troops have been killed and 5 others detained.
In a vain attempt to try and stem the Opposition advance, at least 20 barrel-bombs have been dropped on Opposition held parts of Aleppo today alone.
In Homs, between 29 and 55 people (reports vary), mainly Opposition fighters including 2 commanders, are reported killed in a massive explosion on Sunday in the Al-Jaj market area of the Old City, the source of which is unclear.
Some say the Oppossition were preparing a car bomb and things went wrong, while other reports suggest a Government missile hit an Opposition weapons and ammunition dump.
Reports are also coming in this morning of the assassination of the Catholic Jesuit priest, 72 year old Father Francis Van Der Lugt, who remained in the Opposition held Old City of Homs, even after the recent evacuation of many civilians. He was killed by masked gunmen of unknown origin.
Father Van Der Lugt, a Dutchman, spoke fluent Arabic and was well known for helping others and making international appeals for help for the sick and starving. Albert Abdul-Massih, who worked along Van Der Lugt, said the slain priest held a doctorate in psychiatry and lived an austere life.
“He was a Christian clergyman but he wasn’t conservative … We leant humanity from him and he used to love Muslims as much as he loves Christians … He was treating people for free ….”
In a riot at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, one Syrian refugee was killed yesterday and a number of refugees and Jordanian police wounded, as well as numerous tents and temporary houses burnt to the ground. Reports vary as to the start of the conflict, one saying a child was run over by a Jordanian police vehicle, another that the police arrested a woman and yet another that the police prevented some men entering the camp with a large number of bags. Al Jazeera had a video report, HERE:
Very optimistically, in Lebanon, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has said in a newspaper interview to be published today, that “The danger of the Syrian regime falling has ended, and we have exceeded the risk of partition.”
According to the Hezbollah leader, most of the international community is now looking for a diplomatic solution to the conflict and he also said he was reassured by the ongoing events around Damascus and on Syria’s northern borders. (EDITOR: So let’s hope he is proved dramatically wrong!)
Lastly 2 very tongue in cheek satirical articles connected with Syria. The first suggests that Assad, having lost a number of cousins in battles with Opposition fighters recently, might have to import some more “cousins” from Iran, HERE:
And the second reports on the very secret same-sex marriage, “husband to husband”, which took place in “a quiet up-state New York ceremony between Nasrallah and Putin”, HERE: (EDITOR: They both made me laugh – and boy do we need a little humour sometimes!)