Syria Direct: News Update 4-27-2014

Rebels claim regime base in Quneitra

Free Syrian Army-affiliated fighters published video Sunday seeming to show their takeover of Syrian army positions on the Eastern Tel Ahmar Hills in Quneitra province. The rebel victory comes two weeks after opposition fighters claimed control of the western portion of the Tel Ahmar Hills—which lie less than 2km from Israeli positions in the Golan—following a siege that started in February. “The hills are important because they look out over all the roads in southern Quneitra, so Syrian government troops can constantly target the Free Syrian Army’s resupply routes,” said Quneitra-based activist Jamal al-Joulani Abu al-Abbas in comments to Syria Direct. The claims come as part of a fresh rebel push in southern Syria, with opposition fighters announcing control last week of the Tel al-Jabia military base in western Daraa province, less than 25 km southeast of the Tel Ahmar Hills. The developments raise the possibility that they could consolidate their hold over a contiguous strip of militarily valuable territory less than 100 km southwest of the Syrian capital.

Chemical weapons deadline passes Sunday with Syria close to goal

The Syrian government has yielded more than 86.5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal as it faces Sunday’s deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  Although Syria missed the pre-determined cut-off date spelled out in the September 2013 agreement, the OPCW recently lauded “a significant acceleration in the pace of deliveries to Latakia this month” in a statement issued Thursday. Despite this international acknowledgement, Syria’s government has faced fresh accusations of chemical attacks over the past two weeks, with the United States and France citing “indications” that it had used illegal chlorine gas in the town of Kafr Zeita in Hama province. On Thursday, Reuters reported OPCW chief Ahmet Uzuncu has considered launching an investigation into the chlorine attacks.

Proposed ceasefire in Homs’ al-Waer as rebels face “slow suicide”

Following a 72-hour ceasefire, opposition fighters and regime troops in the Homs neighborhood of al-Waer were negotiating an agreement Sunday to allow transit of humanitarian aid and provide safe passage for withdrawing rebels to the north of the province. “For rebels, staying in Homs is a slow suicide,” a doctor working in a rebel-held field hospital, told Syria Direct Sunday. “The situation for injured people has become catastrophic with the continued absence of food and medicine.” Thousands of displaced Syrians have taken refuge in al-Waer, many from the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs three kilometers to the east, only to face a similar government-imposed blockade on humanitarian aid. Syrian government forces have inched forward since beginning a final push for the neighborhoods last week, announcing Saturday they had advanced in the encircled of Bab al-Houd enclave.

UNRWA reaches Yarmouk with aid, condemns killings of Palestinian children

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced Saturday that it had successfully delivered food parcels to nearly 500 families in southern Damascus’s Yarmouk camp, marking the third consecutive day of deliveries after a 15 day suspension due to fighting in the predominantly Palestinian area. The resumption of aid began last Thursday, four days after UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness warned that UN food aid in Yarmouk had completely run out, leading to widespread reports of malnutrition amongst a civilian population estimated at over 20,000.  Saturday’s delivery brings the total number of aid delivered in Yarmouk to 5,579 food parcels over the last two months, with each food parcel feeding an average family for up to ten days. Also on Saturday, UNRWA issued a statement condemning the deaths of three Palestinian children between ages seven and 11 in March and April; two were killed in Homs and one in Daraa, with one struck in the head by a stray bullet and two killed by explosions.

Yarmouk campUNRWA delivered aid to Yarmouk refugee camp for a third consecutive day Saturday, following a 15 day suspension. Photo courtesy of AbuBakerAljanabi.

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