Syria Direct: News Update 5-15-2014

Deir al-Asafir CW claims uncertain

Claims of a chemical attack on the Eastern Ghouta village of Deir al-Asafir remain unconfirmed Thursday, two days after opposition media published video purporting to show the aftermath a poison gas attack on the village roughly 12 kilometers southeast of the Syrian capital. “It’s not confirmed,” said Qusai Zakaria, a prominent Eastern Ghouta activist currently in the US on an advocacy tour organized by the Syrian American Council. “The doctors there don’t have enough equipment to analyze the symptoms,” he told Syria Direct.

An activist with Deir al-Asafir’s Local Coordination Committee told Syria Direct Wednesday that the chemical reports were likely exaggerated. “There’s nothing to this story; there was a strange smell at night after a few missiles fell, people feared chemicals,” he said.

The new accusations coincide with the release of a Human Rights Watch report citing “strong evidence” that the regime attacked three towns in Idlib and Hama provinces with chlorine gas in mid-April. Activists who spoke with Syria Direct confirmed the central details of HRW’s reporting on attacks in the Hama town of Kafr Zeita on April 11 and the Idlib town of Telmans on April 21. “You could see the yellow gas on the trees,” said Telmans-based activist Salih al-Idlibi, describing the aftermath of a barrel bomb attack the morning of April 21. “It had a really strong smell, many times stronger than household cleaning products.”

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal al-Mekhdad rejected reports that Damascus used chlorine gas as a weapon last month, telling CNN earlier this week that “chlorine gas has never been used as a weapon.”

Islamic Front blows up another regime checkpoint in Idlib

The Islamic Front on Wednesday night released dramatic video purporting to show its demolition a regime checkpoint in the Wadi a-Deif military encampment in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the second time in ten days that the group has blown up a government installation in the base, which sits adjacent to the M5 international highway. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited sources who said that “dozens” of regime soldiers had been killed or injured in the attack on the Tallat a-Sawadi checkpoint, while pro-Islamic Front news site Omawi Mubashar claimed that the group planted some 60 tons of explosives in an 850 meter-long tunnel that rebels dug under Wadi a-Deif.

The Wadi a-Deif encampment is considered one of the most fortified in Idlib province, and contains large stores of weapons and equipment used by regime forces. It also sits three kilometers west of the town of Telmans, which regime forces are believed to have attacked with chlorine gas on April 21.

Assad’s presidential ‘opponents’ roll out platforms

Pro-regime newspaper al-Watan reported Wednesday that two presidential candidates, Hassan a-Nouri and Maher al-Hajjar, have held a series of television interviews over the past few days in which they proposed their electoral programs. President Bashar al-Assad has not held any meetings, or released statements on his presidential program; al-Watan stated that observers have attributed this to the Syrian people’s familiarity with his policies. Al-Watan further reporteded that citizens in Damascus, its environs, Homs, Latakia, and a-Sweida have organized events and crowded marches in support of the president.

In contrast, the opposition website Syrian Revolution claimed that the regime organized an event yesterday, titled “Together,” at the Al-Baath University in Homs province, during which it locked the university gates to prevent students from exiting the premises. Despite these measures, photos show a number of students jumping over the university walls to escape campus.

electionsA photo circulating online Wednesday appears to show UNHCR materials that have been recycled into a pro-Assad campaign tent. Photo courtesy of Addounia TV.

Observatory: 850 dead in regime prisons in past 5 months

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced yesterday that 850 prisoners, among them six women and 15 children, have died in regime prisons over the past five months. "These individuals died as a result of their exposure to torture, field executions, and inhumane and unsanitary conditions," the Observatory claimed, "in addition to deprivation from medicine and medical treatment which they needed." In a similar vein, Amnesty International announced on Tuesday that torture has been practiced systematically in Syria since the start of the conflict, and called for allowing lawyers and doctors to visit prisoners to prevent further abuses, as well as stepping up independent investigations into incidents of torture to punish those responsible.

Navy Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned last March the widespread use of torture in governmental detention centers, and also expressed her regret that some militant opposition groups have resorted to similar tactics. She noted that governmental abuses far exceed those of opposition groups, a claim which led Bashar Jaafari, Permanent Representative of Syria at the UN, to accuse Pillay of acting like an "insane person."

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