SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
BRIEF UPDATE on SYRIA NEWS
OPPOSITION BLAST ASSAD TROOPS IN ALEPPO OLD CITY AND CONTINUE ADVANCE IN HAMA PROVINCE:
TIMELINE – 30th JULY 2014 09.27 GMT:
In another spectacular tunnel bomb blast, Opposition fighters destroyed an old police station and barrier in Aleppo Old City on Tuesday, just infront of the Aleppo Citadel.
At least 13 Assad troops and militia are thought killed in the blast. SANA, the official state media, has not mentioned it at all. Opposition fighters dug two tunnels and set off the charges simultaneously, here:
The blast can be seen from another angle further away, with the citadel in the background here:
The blasts were followed by a gun battle that extended into Tuesday night.
In the north-east of Aleppo in Al-Bureij and the industrial city area, 9 pro-Assad fighters, including a captain, were killed in clashes with the Opposition.
In Hama province, Opposition fighters have continued their advances, taking Jalamah on the North Hama Plain and cutting the highway to the Ghab Plain that borders Latakia province, the regime’s stronghold, (Arabic only) HERE:
South-west of Jalamah, in a “friendly fire” incident, the Syrian Air Force bombed a dozen of its own troops and destroyed a tank as they tried to regain Tell Salba near Hayaleen.
South of Jalamah, the Opposition fighters also advanced into Safsafiyah and to the north-east took over the National Hospital in the southern part of Morek city, (Arabic only) HERE:
Unconfirmed reports say that in the months of fighting over Morek, which is a strategic city on the main highway from Hama to Idlib in the north and Aleppo, Assad has lost 1600 troops and 93 tanks.
At the Rahbet Khattab army base, just to the north-north-west of Hama city, which the Opposition captured last weekend, fighters have filmed a tour, (Arabic only) HERE:
The Opposition are now only 9 kilometres (6 miles) from Hama military airport, which is where they believe most of the barrel-bombs are being manufactured and distributed to all of Syria. Operations at the airfield have already been severely disrupted after the Opposition pounded it with Grad missiles.
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD LOSES 1,100 FIGHTERS IN 7 DAYS AS ISLAMIC STATE SEIZE 2 REGIME BASES – HAS HE UNDERESTIMATED JIHADISTS?:
TIMELINE – 28th JULY 2014 12.59 GMT:
The Islamic State (IS) Jihadists continued their gruesome advance in Syria over the weekend, taking complete control of regime bases at Division 17 north of Raqqah and Brigade 121 south of Hasakah.
IS are said to have killed at least 85 of Assad’s troops in their attack on Division 17, with an estimated 50 summarily executed, their bodies, some decapitated, appearing on the streets of Raqqah and on video.
The whereabouts of another 200 Syrian soldiers is unsure.
Most of them fled northwards towards the Brigage 93 Base just south-west of Ayn Isa or the military airport at Al-Tabaqa, the Assad regime releasing the names of just 32 of Assad’s soldiers that made it to Ayn Isa.
The rest were hiding in villages north of Raqqah where they were coming under attack from IS, and a dozen Syrian Army soldiers were already reported killed in Tall Al-Sim’an.
Latest reports suggest IS is gathering its forces to attack Brigade 93 in an attempt to wipe the Assad regime from the province.
In Hasakah province, the Islamic State’s strategy is much the same, eradicating Government bases so that they can expand their territorial hold.
Brigade 121 in the southern outskirts of Hasakah city fell on Sunday after 3 days of fighting, with claims by IS that they had captured 125 of Assad’s troops and other reports saying that the bodies of 23 regime soldiers had arrived at Hasakah hospital.
The Syrian Air force tried to hold back the extreme Islamist advance with air attacks but to no avail.
The capture of the base has left the Islamic State once again with huge stocks of weapons, ammunition, trucks and artillery field guns.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Assad’s soldiers have abandoned their positions in other parts of Hasakah, which is not far from the Iraq border and the road to IS-controlled Mosul, ceding them to the Kurdish YPG militia who hold the north of the city. One report suggests that Assad’s soldiers have left the Kurds 35 tanks.
The Islamic State are now said to be shelling with artillery the Assad base at Kawkab to the north-east of Hasakah city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), estimates that the Assad regime has lost 1100 soldiers and militia in the last 7 days, while the regime has countered by saying it has killed 590 “terrorists” in the last 24 days – not quite the same rate of attrition.
The Assad losses, about which the regime has said nothing, has apparently alarmed Government supporters on Facebook, particularly the cruel and gruesome IS executions which have been widely publicised.
Abdel Rahman of SOHR said the public display of executions by IS was “a message to the people of Raqqah [and elsewhere], to tell them it is strong, that it isn’t going anywhere, and to terrify” any opponents.
Some commentators think that Assad, by standing back from previously attacking ISIS and now the Islamic State in order to substantiate his “terrorist” theme and to allow them to harass the moderate Opposition, may have underestimated the terrifying power of the extreme Jihadists completely.
This military map, courtesy of @markito0171, showing the ground situation just prior to the latest advances, here:
SYRIA NEWS: MODERATE OPPOSITION CAPTURE ARMY BASE IN HAMA PROVINCE AND PUT MILITARY AIRPORT OUT OF ACTION:
More bad news for Assad in Hama province where the moderate Opposition fighters took control of Khattab town after taking out 4 barriers defending it and then attacked the nearby army base to the north-west at Rahbet Khattab, HERE:, taking complete control of it on Friday.
Once again, the Opposition fighters gained several tons of ammunition and guns, HERE:
Moving to the east, the Opposition are now attacking Qomhana, which is immediately north of Hama city. The military airfield at Hama is currently reported out of action since Opposition fighters pounded it with Grad missiles.
North of Hama, Opposition fighters took out another T-62 tank with a TOW anti-tank missile, HERE:
In Homs province however, the Assad regime is claiming that it has regained control of the Shaer gas Field with state TV showing reports from there, (Arabic only) HERE:
The Islamic State is denying the Assad regime claims and saying it still has control, though it is such a large sprawling complex in the desert, that both sides could be holding part of it.
Many residents in pro-Assad villages east of Homs city, at Khnafes, Saeen, Mukharam, Barri Sharqi, are fleeing their homes in anticipation of an Islamic State counter-attack.
Within Homs city itself another suicide bomb was set off in the mainly Alawite area of Al-Arman followed by an attack with 2 rockets, killing 7 and wounding 20.
In Aleppo province, the Assad regime has continued its murderous assault by barrel-bombs, hitting the Shaar district for the umpteenth time, HERE:
Opposition fighters claimed they managed to shoot down a regime helicopter though on Thursday night over Nayrab airbase, just south of the city. According to reports, the helicopter was loaded with TNT barrel-bombs and exploded on impact severely damaging a number of the airbase buildings.
Unconfirmed reports say the helicopter was downed with a Manpad shoulder held missile – interesting if true.
The Assad regime claims that it “repelled” an attack on Friday night on the Quwaires military airfield in Aleppo province by the Islamic State (IS), while IS also said to have ambushed 12 moderate Opposition fighters in the village of Al-Ahmadia and executed a further 3 after capture.
In Damascus, clashes between the moderate Opposition and the Assad regime are continuing on the Jobar frontline not far from the city centre, HERE:, while the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, a pro-Assad outfit, clashed with Islamic Front moderates in the area around Yarmouk refugee camp, casualties reported on both sides.
In Idlib province, deaths rose to 9, including an Islamic Front commander, after a suicide car-bomb exploded at Atama town near the Syrian/Turkish border.
In Quneitra, Opposition fighters attacked and took over one of the few remaining Assad Army bases in the province at Ayn Al-Basha, HERE:
Meanwhile, in Latakia province, the Russians have announced optimistically that they intend to “expand the port facilities” at their naval base in Tartous to be able to “take larger ships”.
Reports from the US suggest that support for the moderate Opposition brigades is finally ramping up along the Syrian/Turkish border – but is it too little, too late, while men drift away to powerful, better equipped units such as the Islamic State? You can read more in Syria News in the Washington Post.
IRAQ NEWS: 17 UNEXPLAINED EXECUTED BODIES FOUND AROUND BAGHDAD, WHILE ISLAMIC STATE CONTINUE SHRINE DESTRUCTION IN MOSUL:
Iraq news is rather thin on the ground, but these are the main points gleaned from multiple sources:
Unconfirmed reports say that the Islamic State and their allies are attacking Iraq’s Special Forces “Golden Division” (known for their music making rather than their fighting prowess – scroll down – see below 25.07.14) in Babel province – More detail awaited.
The extreme Islamists are also reported to be attacking Sinjar in the north, west of Tal Afar, using fighters coming from the Syrian side.
At the Baiji oil refinery west of Mosul where clashes continue, some parts of the refinery have been burning for days, HERE:, while in Mosul itself the Islamic State (IS) have continued to destroy Shi’ite mosques and shrines.
As well as the Prophet Younis mosque destroyed as reported earlier (scroll down – see below), IS have gone on to demolish the mosque built for Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, and on Sunday the mosque of the Prophet Jirjis, altogether a total of 6 revered holy places lost in a week.
23 men who led a protest against the destruction of the Prophet Younis mosque were apparently flogged.
60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Baghdad at Jurf Al-Sakhr, Iraqi government forces targeted Islamic State targets this morning killing 17 including 3 civilians, 2 women and a child.
The Islamic State removed the wounded to its hospital in its stronghold of Fallujah.
Clashes at Jurf Al-Sakhr are frequent as if the Jihadists gain control they could block the main road between Baghdad and the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Also in the capital this morning, Monday, Iraqi police found 17 bullet ridden bodies at various locations.
The bodies of the 14 men and 3 women were dumped in the streets late Sunday and early Monday. Some had suffered gunshot wounds to the head and chest, with others blindfolded and bound while some also showed signs of torture.
None of the bodies had ID cards and no obvious motive was known for the killings or the identity of the killers, though the deaths are a stark reminder of the action of sectarian killer groups that roamed the streets of Baghdad in 2006/7. In a separate attack 4 men were killed in Baghdad in drive-by shootings using guns with silencers.
On the political front, caretaker Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki’s reign may soon be over as even members of his own party met on Sunday night to discuss finding an alternative candidate.
Internationally, France has announced that it is prepared to offer Iraq’s Christians, driven out from Mosul by the Islamic State, asylum on its territory in Europe, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying, “France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness”.
There is a video report on the destruction of Islamic shrines in Iraq and the removal of Mosul’s Christians in Iraq news from the BBC.
SYRIA NEWS: “LOVE AFFAIR” WITH ASSAD ENDS AS ISLAMIC STATE LAUNCH MULTIPLE ATTACKS AGAINST REGIME INSTALLATIONS:
TIMELINE – 25th JULY 2014 UPDATED 13.46 GMT:
The unspoken tacit agreement between the Assad regime and the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) appears to be truly over, as the extreme Jihadists launched attacks on Syrian Government installations at 3 locations across Syria on Wednesday and Thursday.
In Aleppo province, the Islamic State attacked the Quwaires airbase, which has been under siege by Opposition groups for more than a year, while in the city of Hasakah IS fighters detonated 4 suicide bombs inside the headquarters of Assad’s Ba’ath Party.
12 Ba’ath Party officials were reported dead, one of them decapitated and for a while at least the IS flag flew from the top of the building and the area was awash with gunfire. Local residents fled from regime controlled areas of the city into the northern sections controlled by the Kurds.
On the eastern outskirts of Hasakah, fighting also erupted around the Kawkab Army Artillery base and Base 121 to the south of the city, resulting in the deaths of 11 soldiers and 17 Jihadists. The Islamic State was reported to have withdrawn overnight following Syrian Air Force air attacks.
North of the Islamic State power base in Raqqah city, IS’s main attack was against Assad’s Division 17, which started on Wednesday with 2 suicide truck attacks.
Although the Syrian Government retaliated with helicopter gunships and barrel-bombs, the IS Jihadists still managed to penetrate the base and are now reported to have part of it firmly under their control.
35 Jihadists were reported killed and dozens of Assad’s troops either killed or injured. The Islamic State beheaded 6 officers and gruesomely displayed their heads at Naem roundabout in Raqqah city. The Islamic State Force was estimated at 600, while the Syrian Army defenders amounted to only 2 – 300.
Some of Assad’s soldiers attempted to flee northwards to the Brigade 93 base at AynIsa, but were intercepted near Ruhayyat. The only comment on the Division 17 attack from SANA, the Syrian state media, is that, “ Members of the army unit defending the Band 17 area in Raqqa were successfully redeployed in preparation for facing the armed terrorist groups in the vicinity of Raqqa”.
Pictures released on the Internet, clearly show Islamic State fighters inside the base and an Austrian IS fighter has released video showing fighters destroying Assad portraits and discovering cigarettes and alcohol, HERE:
You can read more how the Islamic State is “testing the strategy of Assad’s military” in this Syria news Reuters’ article.
SYRIA NEWS: LEBANESE ARMY DEFECTOR JOINS SYRIAN OPPOSITION AND JORDAN SHOOTS DOWN A SYRIAN/IRANIAN? DRONE:
Elsewhere in Syria, Opposition fighters claimed to have taken over a “secret” regime radar station located between Nabek and Deir Attiya in the Qalamoun region of Damascus province and to have seized a checkpoint between Khan Ash-Shih and Zakiyah, killing 12 Government troops in the assault.
North-north-east of Aleppo city, the more moderate Opposition are reported to have taken back the village of Al-Ghuz from the Islamic State, and in Hama province Opposition fighters are said to have blown up the railway station at Taibat al-Iman, killing a significant number of regime troops inside.
From Lebanon comes information that a sergeant in the Lebanese army has defected to Syria to fight with the other Jihadist group, the Al-Nusra Front and from Jordan that the army there has shot with a missile an unmanned drone flying on their side of the border adjacent to Daraa province, near Mafraq. As yet the origins of the drone are unknown.
While the EU expanded its list of sanctions against Syrian individuals (3 more) and “entities” (9 more companies or organisations, including 2 oil traders) this week, the UN took action on aid deliveries following the passing of a resolution at the Security Council to by-pass the Assad regime and not seek their permission.
As a result 9 trucks carrying food, water purification tablets and sanitation and shelter materials crossed through the Turkey/Syria Bab al-Salam frontier post on Thursday heading toward unspecified Opposition-held areas, HERE:
In a week in which around 1800 people have died in Syria, one of the worst ever, and total deaths now exceed 170,000, it is sad how interest in the situation has bled away on the Internet and the media generally to Gaza, the Ukraine and elsewhere.
This piece in Atlantic magazine discusses whether the Arab world in particular is far more interested in Israelis killing Arabs than Arabs killing Arabs. What do you think?
IRAQ NEWS: ATTACK ON PRISON CONVOY LEAVES 60 DEAD, WHILE DOUBTS EMERGE OVER UN CLAIM OF ISIS INSTITUTING FGM:
A dawn attack yesterday, Thursday, with mortars on Iraqi Army positions in the town of Taji, north-west of Baghdad, led the Iraqi military to evacuate the local prison and head for Baghdad.
The road south through a remote area was however booby-trapped with IED explosives leading to the disabling and destruction of a number of vehicles, followed by an all out attack by armed gunmen.
In the resulting carnage, 52 prisoners were killed and 8 soldiers or police officers, and a further 8 soldiers/police officers and 7 prisoners were left wounded. Taji is just 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Iraq’s capital.
It is not clear if the prisoners, who were suspected militants, were killed by their captors or the armed gunmen who were assumed to be the Islamic State (IS) or their allies. Previous prison attacks by IS have freed more than 500 inmates to fight on their side.
The commander of Iraq’s Military Engineering Operations, Brigadier Abdul Kadhim Morshedi was reported killed in fighting south of Baghdad this morning, Friday, and reports from Sudan say that a militant Islamic group there, Al-Attasam belKetab wa al-Sunna, has also endorsed the Islamic State across Syria and Iraq.
According to some observers, the Islamic State is getting more sophisticated in the use of equipment, with one report that they are using UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones) to spot Iraqi Army targets to bomb with mortars.
In Mosul, which they control, the Islamic State blew up the famous mosque of Nabi Younis on Thursday, HERE: The mosque was said to contain the tomb of Jonah, who according to both the Bible and the Koran was swallowed by a whale, but survived to tell the tale.
Continuing the destruction of Iraq’s heritage IS also blew up the nearby mosque of Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan. The mosques were destroyed because they were being used for “apostasy” according to the Jihadists, not prayer. A number of nearby houses were also damaged in the blasts.
A report that the Islamic State has “ordered all girls to undergo circumcision” (or female genital mutilation, known in the west as FGM) in Mosul has been denied by the extreme Jihadist group.
The report that FGM was going to be enforced in Mosul came from the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters that up to 4 million women and girls aged 11-46 faced the risk of genital mutilation.
Her statement was based on a document circulating on the Internet that originated in Aleppo in 2013 but which appears to have been “adapted” to look as though it was recently issued by the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. FGM is not prevalent in Iraq, though more common in Kurdish areas.
(EDITOR: God forbid that they should go in this direction. FGM is an abomination. The UK is taking steps to make it a completely illegal act on UK citizens, carried out inside or outside the country)
In Baghdad yesterday, the Iraqi Parliament elected a new President, Fouad Massoum, a veteran Kurdish politician, while reports from northern Iraq say that up to 15,000 Shi’ite Turkmen and their families have been moved south by plane and armed convoy in order to get them out of the path of Islamic State (IS) attacks.
One of the ways IS makes such rapid progress is by attacking towns and villages and then if they don’t get cooperation or surrender, they kidnap members of prominent local families. Under those circumstances, the local leaders soon capitulate and the Islamic State moves on, leaving small cells of armed men behind to rule by fear. You can read more from Reuters.
Lastly, on a lighter note, it appears that “Iraqi Special Op Forces Gold Division” is far better at making music than fighting the Islamic State, here:
SYRIA NEWS: MODERATE OPPOSITION TURN TABLES ON ISLAMIC STATE SOUTH OF DAMASCUS, FORCING THEM TO SURRENDER:
TIMELINE – 23rd JULY 2014 12.57 GMT:
In villages just south of Damascus, there has been an ongoing battle (scroll down – see below) between moderate Opposition fighters and members of the Islamic State (IS -formerly ISIS).
Yesterday, Tuesday, this culminated in the surrender of around 75 IS fighters after the last group of extreme Jihadists believed to be in Damascus province was completely surrounded by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their allies.
The surrender was negotiated by the other Jihadist group, the Al-Nusra Front. 20 of the captured IS fighters were reported to be only aged between 14 and 18 years old.
Shortly before the surrender, the leader of the Islamic State fighters in Damascus province, known as Abu Dujani Al-Kuwaiti, blew himself up with a suicide belt. Following this the FSA removed several IED explosive bombs from the captured Islamic State headquarters, HERE:
Elsewhere in Damascus province, the fighting between the Opposition and the Assad regime continued yesterday along the edges of Jobar and the central area of the capital not far from Abbasiyeen Square, with the Government bringing in regular troops and Hezbollah militia to reinforce their positions and the security police headquarters.
The Syrian Army deployed tanks in Abbasiyeen Square and shelled Opposition districts, while the Syrian Air Force pounded Jobar from the air. Opposition fighters in turn fired mortar bombs into regime areas, wounding 18 according to Government sources.
Fighting was concentrated around the Arfe checkpoint, which some reports said had been recaptured by Assad troops, though the current picture is not at all clear. More information awaited.
The Assad regime has also used barrel-bombs and to bombard Hamoryiah, Erbeen, al-Moleha, Saqba, and Beit Jin, all in Damascus province.
In Aleppo, the Government attacks on Opposition areas of the city continue, with many people killed or injured. This video footage shows a child who was trapped under a table along with her mother, but was eventually rescued, (after a short, stupid ad) HERE:
While the Opposition fighters continue to monitor the movements of Assad’s troops in the Najjar industrial area to the north-east of the city, HERE: , Assad’s Air Force has also turned its attentions to the Islamic State (IS), bombing their positions in the IS-held town of Al Bab.
6 children, all from the same family, 3 boys and 3 girls, were also reported killed in an Assad air raid on the village of Wahshiyeh in Aleppo province.
Bashar Al-Assad’s Government has additionally demonstrated a systematic policy of destroying medical facilities, particularly hospital buildings and field hospitals in Opposition-held areas. This interesting animated time lapse map, courtesy of @GinaSBS, shows the widespread destruction of medical centres since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, HERE:
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD’S TROOPS CAPTURED BY OPPOSITION IN DARAA PROVINCE, WHILE ISLAMIC STATE STARTS TRANS-NATIONAL BUS SERVICE:
In southern Daraa province, Opposition fighters captured around 23 Syrian Army soldiers on the frontline for the battle for Nawa, HERE:
Many of Assad’s troops have also been killed by IED explosive devices laid by Opposition brigades near Sheikh Meskin as the Government soldiers tried to re-inforce their colleagues on the Nawa front.
East-south-east of Nawa, the Opposition destroyed a Government tank on a hill at Harfouch with a TOW anti-tank missile, HERE:
In Hama province, the Syrian Army failed yet again to take Morek after storming it again yesterday, HERE:, while to the north-west of Hama city, Opposition fighters retook Tel Salba, killing 20 of Assad’s soldiers in the process.
There appears to be a well organised system in Hama province to keep the Opposition frontline troops well fed, (Arabic only), HERE:
In Latakia province, perhaps indicating the pressures that the Assad regime is now under for manpower, thousands of young men who had already completed their military service have been contacted by the military police in Tartous and told to report to the regular army for additional service.
In Hasakah province, ongoing battles between the YPG Kurdish militia and the Islamic State (IS) continue to be reported from the Tal Ma’rouf area and near Terba Sabi, with IS attacking YPG checkpoints with mortars and heavy machine guns.
However, not everyone is “happy” to be under Islamic State control, with demonstrations taking place against IS in the Deir Ez-Zour border town with Iraq of A-Bukamal.
A youth movement called Liwa Qadisiyah (Popular Resistance) called on IS to leave the city, but the demonstration was dispersed after IS fighters opened fire.
More moderate Opposition brigades, who were driven out of the city by the Islamic State, are said to be attempting to exploit the situation.
With the Islamic State in control of many of Syria’s oil wells, particularly in Deir Ez-Zour province in the eastern part of the country, Assad’s Oil Minister, Suleiman Abbas, admitted yesterday that since the outbreak of hostilities 3 years ago the country has lost $21.4 billion in infrastructure damage, lost oil and lost profits.
Optimistically, asked about a new gas project that is due to become operational in August near the Islamic State-held city of Tabaqa, Suleiman said the site was “secure”. Reuters has more on the Islamic State’s hold on Syrian oil supplies.
But that is not the only source of revenue for the Islamic State. Now they even have a bus service that runs from Tal Abayd in Aleppo province in Syria to Anbar province in Iraq – no passport required.
The service runs on Sundays and Wednesdays, a Jihadist flag on top of the bus and a constant stream of Jihadi music inside. Women sit separtely at the back, men in the front. One 26 year old Chechen Jihadist apparently took his new Syrian wife on “honeymoon” to Anbar.
Fares vary depending on the destination and vehicles with armed fighters accompany the bus on its journey. You can read more, HERE:
In Idlib province there is a suggestion that the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) is attempting to carve out territory of its own to form a “state” or “emirate”. After weeks of clashes between ANF and more moderate Opposition groups, ANF have taken control of the northern town of Haram.
Haram, which like a number of towns controlled by ANF in northern Idlib, is not far from the Turkish border and there are fears that the Al-Qaeda aligned group, though not as extreme as IS, will impose its own form of harsh Sharia law on territory which it controls.
There are also reports from Yemen that another Al-Qaeda aligned group has declared an “emirate” there (EDITOR: Clearly the latest fashionable thing to do).
Politically, the Syrian Opposition continues in turmoil, with the sacking of the head of its “interim government”, Ahmad Tohme, and his entire team.
The dawn vote at the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Generally Assembly sacked Tohme for “poor management”, though it may be as much to do with his closeness to Qatar, while the new SNC President, Hadi al-Bahra, is aligned, like his predecessor, to Saudi Arabia.
The Opposition fighting brigades known as the Islamic Front, also called yesterday for a new SNC backed “Supreme Military Council”, further adding to Opposition confusion.
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION FIGHTERS BREAK OUT OF JOBAR AND GIVE ASSAD A FRIGHT BY ATTACKING CENTRAL DAMASCUS:
TIMELINE – 21st JULY 2014 12.59 GMT:
In a surprise move, Opposition fighters broke out of the suburb of Jobar on Sunday and launched their first major assault in the capital for months, attacking Assad regime checkpoints and advancing towards central parts of Damascus.
Heavy regime losses were reported by Opposition activists as the Opposition fighters threatened Abbasiyeen Square and the Mukhabarat security services headquarters.
The Opposition, who are holding the Arfe checkpoint, are seen firing rocket grenades just 1 kilometre from Abbasiyeen Square, HERE:
While is is unlikely the Opposition fighters will remain in the regime normally-held areas, it will undoubtedly draw Assad reinforcements from other positions where they are already known to be short of manpower.
Interestingly, the Opposition in the Ghouta region have also announced the “readiness of an air defense system after tests”.
Quite what this is, is currently unknown, though Opposition fighters did capture a SA-8 Gecko mobile surface to air missile launcher 2 years ago and little has been seen of it since.
South of Damascus, the Opposition are additionally reporting that over the weeekend they have cleared the Islamic State (IS) from the villages of Beit Sahem, Yalda and Babila and as a result the extreme Jihadists fled to Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam where they have a stronger presence.
At dawn today, Monday, the moderate Oppositon fighters, determined to drive them out of the whole Damascus area, attacked Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and Qadam, saying that they are sick of IS abuses, even extending to IS killing their fighters and commanders when they were asleep.
In Raqqah city, where the Islamic State are in complete control, they have been trying to “win hearts and minds” during Ramadan by handing out Zakat, or alms, amounting to 2,000 Syrian pounds (around $12 at current rates) per person, with a total of 20,000 SYP per family.
However, the “gift” comes with conditions. Everyone who takes the money must swear allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and gets an IS date stamp on their identity card. This can be a problem for some, especially those who have to travel to Government held areas to get their civil service wages.
IS has also launched an FM radio station in Raqqah, but the evil of its extreme Islamic “law” was portrayed last Thursday when a widow was accused of “adultery” (probably raped) and stoned to death.
In Hama province, Opposition fighters are reported to have taken a military checkpoint at Al-Salba, killing 20 regime troops, while losing 2 of their own.
Al-Saba is east of Morek, where heavy fighting continues amid reports of the capture of a significant number of pro-Assad fighters and Hezbollah.
In Idlib province, regime forces tried to invade the Opposition-held village of Qmenas, south-east of Idlib city, but were repelled, while further south in the province Opposition fighters used an enormous 200 mm artillery mortar against the Wadi Deif Army base, HERE:
SYRIA NEWS: FOLLOWING HUGE NUMBERS KILLED IN FIGHTING OVER SHAAR GAS FIELD, SYRIA 2 DAY TOTAL REACHES 700 DEAD:
In the desert landscape of eastern Homs province 3 days of fighting have followed the capture of the Shaar gas field by the Islamic State, with latest reports saying that the Government side lost 60 troops in the battles.
Additionally another 270 are thought to have been killed in battle or executed by the Islamists, mainly members of Assad’s National Defence Force, civilians and security guards. At least 40 Islamic State Jihadists have died in the fighting.
These extreme numbers bring the total of deaths in Syria last Thursday and Friday to over 700, the highest 2 day figure since records began in March 2011.
In the south of the country in Quneitra province the Opposition forces have advanced on regime forces stationed in Majduliyah village, HERE: and in adjacent Daraa province figters have shown off the Kornet Anti-tank missile launchers they captured at Sheikh Saad (scroll down – see below).
Dozens of Opposition brigades have also announced this morning, Monday, that they are coming together to finally eliminate the Assad regime from Daraa province.
In Aleppo’s Old City parts of it were still burning Saturday after a heavy airstrike, HERE:, while 7 Opposition fighters and their commander were killed in a barrel-bomb attack on their headquarters in Al-Ansari Al-Sharqi.
At the same time, the Opposition have been attacking Assad’s forces stationed at a cement factory south-west of Aleppo city, HERE: and have resisted an attack by the Islamic State at Akhrareen, where 17 were reported killed yesterday.
The citizens of Aleppo on all sides are continuing to suffer water problems which have been going on for 90 days. Much damage to the system was caused by barrel-bombs, while all involved parties have shown incompetence at getting the pipes, valves and pumps running again. As a result, many of the older wells which people have been relying on have run dry or are contaminated.
IRAQ NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE SEEKS TO CONTROL WATER AND ELECTRICITY IN IRAQ AND EVICTS MONKS FROM NORTHERN HOLY CHRISTIAN SHRINE:
In Iraq, the Islamic State offensive continues with no sign of it abating or being driven back by the failing Iraqi Government forces.
Overnight, 16 people died in 2 Iraqi cities as mortar bombs rained down on Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Baghdad on Sunday night, killing 11 civilians and wounding 31, and in Baghdad’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib where a roadside bomb struck an army patrol, killing two soldiers and three volunteers.
The Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for 2 suicide bombings on Saturday carried out by a German and a Syrian they say, killing 24 in the process near checkpoints in the capital.
An earlier suicide bombing last Thursday near a Baghdad mosque, killing 3 and injuring dozens, was apparently carried out by an 18 year old Australian, a report which authorities in the Australian capital Canberra described as “deeply disturbing”.
As in Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq is carefully trying to seize strategic points such as border crossings and to control supplies of crucial resources such as oil, electricity and water.
In Mosul, residents fled when the Islamic State (IS) cut off water and electricity, but many returned when it was switched back on after the Jihadist take over.
Iraq’s 32 million people rely on the water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which arise in Turkey and flow southwards across what is now IS controlled territory. IS already have the dams at Falluja and Mosul under their power and are trying to capture the dam at Haditha, which is crucial for the hydro-electricity supply to Baghdad.
Water from the 2 great rivers is vital to life in southern Iraq, while water from Mosul dam is crucial to the survival of Kurdistan in the north. By controlling these resources, IS know that they can manipulate cooperation from their enemies in the long run and support from their friends in the short term. You can read more, HERE:
There are also reports today, Monday, that Iraqi businessmen are sending tanker trucks across the border to the IS controlled oil-fields in the Deir Ez-Zour province of Syria to buy oil at $20 to $40 a barrel – on the international open market it sells at over $100.
The expulsion of Mosul’s Christians by IS over the weekend on pain of death if they remained and did not convert, has been widely condemned throughout the world.
Today, Monday, it has been followed by an Islamic State assault on the 4th century monastery at Mar (Saint) Behnam near Qaraqosh in northern Iraq on Sunday.
According to reports the 5 monks were told, “You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately,” and despite pleading to be allowed to take holy relics with them they were denied and forced to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes.
The monks walked several miles along deserted roads and were eventually picked up by Kurdish Peshmerga militia who drove them to Qaraqosh.
Mar Behnam is a major Christian landmark in Iraq and was built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib II as a penance for having his children Behnam and Sarah killed because they had converted to Christianity.
Local people traditionally visit the shrine to pray for healing and fertility.
The United Nations said on Friday that at least 5,576 Iraqi civilians have been killed this year and 11,665 wounded. In June alone, as the Islamic State swept across the country, 1,531 civilians died. More than 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq and there are now 2.9 million Syrian refugees living outside Syria, many on Iraqi soil.
Although Iraqi President Jalal Talabani returned from Germany on Saturday after a long spell of illness, the post comes up for re-election soon. Traditionally given to a Kurd to spread the ethnic balance, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has chosen Fuad Masum as its candidate.
IRAQ NEWS: CHRISTIANS IN MOSUL ORDERED TO CONVERT, LEAVE OR DIE, WHILE ISLAMIC STATE INVADE PERIMETER OF CAMP SPEICHER:
UPDATED 19th JULY 2014 14.59 GMT – ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED TIMELINE – 18th JULY 2014 13.12 GMT:
After Friday prayers in Mosul, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city, saying that they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax on non-Muslims known as Jiziya, or give up their possessions and property and leave the city. Failure to comply would result in the death penalty as “a last resort”.
The statement was issued after Christian leaders failed to respond to a summons to attend a meeting with the Islamic State. As a result, most of the Christian population of the city, estimated at around 3,000, are said to be leaving as quickly as possible.
Some reports say that the property of those who have already fled has been confiscated and Christian families being stopped at Islamic State checkpoints on the way out are being relieved of money and jewellery.
Most of the families affected are heading for relative safety of Dohuk and Erbil in neighbouring Kurdistan.
The main Catholic Church in Mosul was set on fire this morning, Saturday, and completely destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Consular building in the city is apparently being used as the headquarters of the Islamic State in Mosul, the whereabouts of the Turkish Consul-General and 48 of his staff and their families still unknown.
Both US and Iraqi forces have confirmed that as many as 52 X 155mm M198 artillery howitzers fell into IS hands in their rapid advance across Iraq and hundreds of Humvees. Each of the sophisticated artillery guns is equipped with GPS and have a range of 20 miles. Cost? Around $500,000 a piece!
There are also reports that the Islamic State is giving up the eastern part of Mosul to Naqshbandi forces (former Ba’ath Party members who followed dictator Saddam Hussein), while retaining control over the western half of the city, thereby releasing more of their fighters to travel south to their base at Tikrit.
The extent of the Islamic State’s complete rout of Iraqi Government forces in their attempt to retake Tikrit last week is only now becoming clear, with dozens of soldiers killed, many fleeing and the only support helicopter running out of fuel. A Shia fighter said the “doors of hell” opened as Government troops prepared to raise the Iraqi flag over state buildings.
“The bullets rained on our heads from everywhere and the suicide bombers were throwing themselves from the windows and detonated themselves in the air.” This second failed attempt to regain Tikrit has confirmed the view of military analysts that the Iraqi military on its own will never be able to retake western and northern Iraq.
Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War, this is the latest visual and detailed ground situation report from Iraq on July 18th:
On Thursday Islamic Front fighters penetrated nearby Camp Speicher, snipers and suicide bombers clearing a path all the way to the runway. Pilots flew out helicopters from the base to save them from destruction, but a Russian model failed to take off and was destroyed. The Government side claim that they killed at least 35 attackers.
IS claim that they had killed many pilots and soldiers, shot 2 helicopters out of the air and burned several aircraft on the ground as well as destroying army vehicles, fuel reserves and communications equipment.
Fighting for complete control of the base is ongoing and its loss would put a severe dent in the Iraqi Government’s already limited capabilities to launch attacks against the Islamic Front in the north of the country.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the Islamic State have launched another attack on Dhuluiya, north-west of Baghdad and to the north-east of the capital clashes are reported around Muqdadiyeh.
South of Baghdad fighting is also reported near Babel with deaths on both sides and an IS suicide bomber killed 6 policemen and wounded 3 more near the Balad airbase not far from the capital.
Unconfirmed reports say that up to 400 Iranian Revolutionary Guards have arrived in Iraq to protect Shia shrines, many of which have already been attacked or destroyed in IS controlled territory.
On the political front, the Iraqi parliament eventually got its act together this week and elected a Speaker, Salim Jabouri, and in a surprise move it was announced that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has been in Germany for long term medical treatment since December 2012, is returning home today, Saturday 19th July, to “resume his duties”.
Finally, the new “Caliph” is said to be anti-smoking in all its forms, including the Sheesha water pipe and has ordered its destruction.
SYRIA NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE SEIZE GOVERNMENT GAS FIELD NEAR PALMYRA, WHILE ASSAD ACCUSED OF YET ANOTHER GAS ATTACK
In an audacious move, the Islamic State (IS) Jihadists, using their new found fire power captured in Iraq, yesterday, Thursday, attacked and took control of the Shaar Gas Field in the eastern part of Homs province not far from Palmyra.
As many as 90 – 100 pro-Assad militia, civilian security guards and employees were initially reported killed in the take over with another 340 unaccounted for. Another 30 militia are said to have escaped to the nearby Hajjar field.
25 of those killed are reported to be civilian workers at the plant, while most of those guarding it were members of Assad’s National Defence Force or contractors working for Syria’s Oil Ministry. Gruesome video on the Internet shows the desert landscape at the site littered with dead bodies, some of them mutilated.
The Government state website, SANA, has made no mention of the attack.
The Islamic State, who are said to have lost 12 men in the fight, neutralised 8 checkpoints around the site with suicide bomb attacks before moving in and taking control of the whole gas field.
Latest reports on Saturday, say that IS have killed as many as 270 in fighting or by execution. A counter attack this morning by Government forces is said to have killed 40 IS Jihadists with the loss of another 11 pro-Assad fighters, but they have regained some ground. At least 100 are still missing.
In southern Damascus, there have been protests against the actions of the Islamic State, HERE:, while nearby at Al-Qadam, not far from the Yarmouk camp, there there have been clashes between Opposition and Government fighters.
According to unconfirmed activist reports, all Opposition fighting groups in Ghouta, east of the capital, will unite into one army and command next week, with other unconfirmed reports claiming that 200 members of Hezbollah have been killed since the start of Ramadan.
In a suburb of Malieha to the north-east of Damascus, Al-Nusra Front carried out a suicide bombing attack using an armoured personnel carrier while at the same time the Assad regime is reported to be raining down a new type of rocket on the town called an “earthquake” or alternatively an “elephant”, HERE:
On Wednesday, Bashar Al-Assad was sworn in as President of Syria for a third 7 year term, telling Western and Arab governments that they will pay a heavy price for “supporting terrorism”.
The much publicised “amnesty” of “thousands” of political prisoners announced by Assad shortly after his “re-election in early June, has turned, not unsurprisingly into a bit of a farce. A lawyer working with political detainees in Damascus said releases has not exceeded 1,300 people including ordinary criminal detainees.
Those released included about 400 people who went before the Anti-Terrorism court, 200 from Sednaya prison, 200 from the security branches, and 150 others from other governorate prisons. Some judges had apparently sent the files of some detainees due to be released under the amnesty back to the public prosecutor, requesting a change to the charges so that would then fall outside the scope of the general amnesty. You can read more from Human Rights Watch.
Yesterday, Opposition fighters repelled yet another attack from Government forces on the town of Morek (Mork) in Hama province, which is key to the route from Hama to Idlib. Following a ground attack the Opposition were hit with 15 airstrikes with significant losses on both sides and the frontline moving backwards and forwards almost hourly.
Trying to destroy the Opposition and their positions in surrounding towns and villages, the Syrian Air Force also hit Kfar Zita for at least the 3rd time with barrel-bombs containing a chlorine like substance that caused severe breathing difficulties in the local population, HERE:
Chlorine, being a widely used chemical in industry, was not listed as part of Assad’s declared stock chemical weapons arsenal, most of which, apart from a few unexplained discrepancies, has now been removed from the country. 200 tons of Syria’s neutralised chemical weapons arrived in the UK earlier this week for final destruction at specialised facilities.
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION DESTROY MORE CHECKPOINTS AROUND LAST REMAINING ASSAD BASES IN IDLIB AND CAPTURE BASE IN DARAA PROVINCE
In Idlib province, the Opposition have moved forward yet again, destroying the Dabaan checkpoint protecting the Wadi Deif Army base and the Hajanak military checkpoint inside the Hamadiya Base, both of which have been under siege for over a year.
The resupply of these bases is connected with the fight at Morek (see above), a very slim physical corridor now remaining to the Assad Government between the bases and territory it controls in Hama city (see map below).
Opposition fighters have additionally shelled with mortars the “poultry-barrier” at Camp Alhamdeh, HERE:
In Daraa province in the south, the Opposition have also captured the base of Battalion 26 and the Infantry Brigade 61 at Sheikh Saad, south of Nawa and north-west of Darra city. This video footage give a tour inside the base, one of the largest in Syria, HERE:
Sheikh Saad is seen as strategically important as it lies close to Al-Sanamayn and Izraa, two districts in Daraa which were seen as the first defence line for the capital Damascus.
North-east of Aleppo city the Islamic State are trying to invade the city of Akhtareen, while in Latakia the Opposition have repelled an Assad regime attack on Utiyraa village, south-east of Kassab.
A regime helicopter is reported to have dropped a TNT barrel-bomb on their own forces by mistake at Kafr Sagheer, killing 21.
In Deir Ez-Zour, the Islamic State (IS) are reported to have clashed with Government forces just a few hundred metres from the military airport, while IS following recent advances are estimated to be in control of 35% of Syria.
In the north of Raqqah province the Kurdish YPG militia lost 3 villages near Tal Abyad to the Islamic State, while 2 Belgian fathers came looking for their sons.
Both the sons were fighting with the Islamic State, one needing 4 insulin injections a day for diabetes, but the pair refused to return home. Video Report from the BBC’s Syria News service.
In Raqqah city itself there is now an all-female Islamic State Brigade that keeps “other women in order” and makes them dress, behave and follow the “faith” appropriately. You can read more, HERE:
At the same time there are also reports that a woman in Raqqah province has been stoned to death by the Islamic State for adultery, the first reported case in Syria. The appalling act of stoning took place in a public square in Tabaqa on Thursday evening. The victim was a 26 year old widow.
From Jordan, Save the Children Fund now says that the number of child marriages among Syrian refugees has now almost doubled since 2011, when it represented 13% of all weddings. Now it is over 25% in 2013 with the figure reaching 32% in the first quarter of 2014.
48% of the underage women were forced into unions with men at least 10 years their senior under laws which allow such marriages with the courts permission. Girls who marry before 18, says Save the Children Fund, are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later, and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting severe strains on their very young bodies. You can read more, HERE:
From Turkey there are reports that the Government there is to take extreme action against the 1 million Syrians refugees living and begging on the streets of Istanbul, forcibly deporting them back to camps near the Syrian border if necessary.
800 Kurds from the Turkish side of the border are additionally said to have crossed the frontier to aid the Kurdish militia in their struggle to resist attacks from the Islamic State who are trying to get control of the border region of Ain al-Arab (Kobani in Kurdish).
A unanimous vote at the UN Security Council on Monday, Russia and China for once not exercising their veto, has ensured that cross border aid deliveries can be made to Opposition held areas of Syria, whether the Assad Government “gives its permission” on not.
The deliveries will come in via 2 border crossings from Turkey, 1 from Iraq and 1 from Jordan. The mandate lasts for 180 days and then will have to be renewed.
In this map, courtesy of @p_vanostaeyen, note how vulnerable some regime outposts are now around Daraa city, Idlib, Deir Ez-Zour, Aleppo, Raqqah province, Hassakah province and Qamishli, with very narrow entry and exit points, here: