Syria Direct: News Update 5-18-15

Victory Army closer to regime base in Idlib

The rebel coalition known as the “Victory Army” took control of a strategic hill overlooking the regime-controlled al-Mastuma military base in the south Idlib countryside on Mondayreported pro-opposition Smart News Agency, bringing rebels closer to full control of one of the last regime strongholds in the province. 
 
Victory Army fighters battled regime forces and took control of the hill, “one of the last lines of defense for the nearby base,” activist Hashim Abdullah told ARA News Agency on Monday. The capture comes after rebels targeted regime forces in a school on the hill with a car bomb, resulting in multiple casualties, reported pro-opposition El-Dorar.
 
Jabhat a-Nusra attacked and turned back a regime convoy heading to al-Mastuma on Mondayreported Step News Agency.

 Members of Victory Army (Ahrar a-Sham) took control of a village west of al-Mastuma on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ahrar a-Sham Homs.

‘Military police’ attempt to stem defections

The Islamic Military Police, a recently established organ of the Islamic State (IS), is arresting any non-Syrian fighters resisting security checks in an effort to stem the increasing tide of defecting foreign fighters, reported the pro-opposition media campaign Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered on its Facebook page Sunday.
 
IS established military police units in A-Raqqa province late last year following its defeat in Kobani, Firat al-Wifa, a Raqqa-based journalist, told Syria Direct on Monday.
 
“Their official mission is to forcibly return fleeing fighters to the front lines,” al-Wafa said. The units stop IS foreign fighters at checkpoints and comb the streets of Tabqa city in patrol cars, Silently Slaughtered reported.
 
Heavy-handed checkpoints and night patrols brought IS military police and foreign fighters to blows on at least one occasion, when a group of non-Syrian IS fighters being questioned were asked to produce their passports, according to the Silently Slaughtered post.
 
IS is particularly wary of urban-based foreign fighters in A-Raqqa province as the proximity of cities such as A-Raqqa and Kobani near the Turkish border has tempted many to defect,reported the British independent Al-Quds Al-Arabi at the time of the Islamic Military Police’s establishment in December of last year. 

Islamic State edging toward Aleppo city

Islamic State forces advanced on the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City, the regime’s primary garrison in the northern Aleppo countryside, capturing a hill and two villages in the city’s outskirts on Sundayreported opposition news sources.
 
Pro-regime Slab News reported regime fighting with “armed groups” in the area on Monday, but did not confirm IS control over the villages.
 
The Sheikh Najjar Industrial City is the primary regime base in the swath of regime-controlled territory northeast of Aleppo city, which is split between regime control in the west and rebel in the east.
 
Sheikh Najjar sits on the only supply route connecting regime outposts farther north in the towns of Bashkoy, Handarat, and the Aleppo Prison from regime positions in the eastern Aleppo countryside and the western half of Aleppo city.