Syria Direct: News update 1-7-15

Snowstorm wreaks havoc on Syrian camps

The snowstorm sweeping the region tore up tents and flooded camps for internally displaced Syrians on the Syrian-Turkish border in Idlib and Aleppo provinces Tuesday night.

The storm—alternatively called 'Huda,' 'Zeina,' and the 'Peace Storm' depending on geographical region—hit the Atma and al-Karama camps particularly hard with snow and rain, with area residents circulating pictures of the damage on social media websites.

Activists and opposition brigades in Idlib province, including Ahrar a-Sham, headed north Tuesday to evacuate displaced persons from the Orient camp near Atma to homes and schools elsewhere in Idlib.

Meanwhile, Turkish armed forces evacuated an unknown number of displaced Syrians along the border into Turkish territory and provided them with food, shelter and medical aid, reported pro-opposition Siraj press.

Homs province registered the first official death from the storm Tuesday, that of 10-year old Heba Abdul Ghani in a camp in the al-Buqaa al-Awsat area, according to pro-opposition Sham News Network.

 

SyriamCampsHudaStrong winds uprooted tents and flooded IDP camps in Idlib on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Khaled Abu Abdo.

Rebels continue to gain in Aleppo

Opposition forces built on previous victories this week in Aleppo city by capturing areas surrounding the southwest entrance of regime-controlled Sheikh Najjar and killing a regime commander on Tuesday, according to the official Islamic Front Twitter account.

“Liberation of the Manashr al-Brej area and the killing of a number of Assad soldiers,” tweeted the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebel groups, on Tuesday.

The regime seized Sheikh Najjar, located northeast of Aleppo city, from the rebels last July, sparking fears that it would then capture the nearby Handarat and Castello road, thereby severing the main rebel supply route into the city.

Fighters from a number of local rebel brigades including Ahrar a-Sham participated in the attack, reported the pro-opposition news agency All4Syria.

They fought a regime force comprised of Iranian and Afghan militias, Syrian army soldiers and pro-Assad militias.

The attack reportedly killed at least 20 regime fighters and destroyed a tank, said pro-opposition news agency Halab News.

In related news, another rebel group, Feilaq a-Sham, simultaneously fired rockets into the nearby pro-regime Shiite towns of Zahra and Nubul on Tuesday, Halab News reported. 

New university for Tartus

Following Syrian President Bashar Assad’s announcement of plans for a new university in Tartus, some residents say the move is designed to placate frustrated Alawites in the province, a displaced Syrian activist currently in Tartus city told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

The Tartus University construction project was announced by Assad earlier this week. It represents the “most important initiative the regime has presented to the city with respect to education,” said the activist, originally from Homs, who asked to remain anonymous.   

Tartus, a pro-regime Alawite-majority city, has been mostly untouched by the war. Assad, who is of Alawite descent, has largely enjoyed the support of his sect, although signs of dissent have appeared as the war drags on.

Building a university in the city will “reduce the transportation and housing fees for students in the city who otherwise have to go outside the province [to study],” the activist said.

The proposed university will reportedly include departments in medicine, education, economics, humanities, pharmacy, engineering and tourism, according to the announcement.

In October 2014, the regime opened a high-end mall in Tartus, which reportedly cost SP10 billion [$62 million], angering regime supporters in the region who said it was wasteful.  

UNICEF: Disrupted education for 670,000 children

At least 670,000 children have experienced disruptions to their schooling because of fighting and school closures in A-Raqqa, Deir e-Zor and Aleppo provinces, said UNICEF in a press release Tuesday.

Unspecified groups carried out a total of 68 attacks on schools across Syria in 2014, the statement read, which “reportedly killed and wounded hundreds of children.”

“There are indications that some attacks may have been deliberate,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF did not state which parties were responsible for school closures.

The Islamic State (IS) shut down schools across Deir e-Zor province in November for teachers to complete a month-long “sharia course,” reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on November 7.

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