Syria Direct: News Update 5-21-15

Jaish al-Islam claims to break through Ghouta cordon

Jaish al-Islam forces overran the last of a string of regime checkpoints and fortifications forming the five-kilometer “first line of defense” in front of the regime’s Liwa 39 military base in East Ghouta on Wednesday, putting the rebels only one kilometer away from the base, announced JAI on their website.

A night raid by Jaish al-Islam members forced regime fighters to abandon the checkpoint, located in the village of Hosh al-Khayt, and flee to a nearby school and mosque.

The Liwa 39 military base consists of a series of military barracks and provides medical services. It is a strategic position from which the regime can shell the rebel-controlled Damascene suburbs of East Ghouta.

"Liwa 39 is an essential base in the regime's arsenal, it is a pressure point that the regime uses to target the cities and towns of East Ghouta...in addition to containing chemicals and medical services," Islam Aloush, the official spokesperson for Jaish al-Islam, told Syria Direct earlier this week.

Rebels began operations to push through the defense line on Tuesday.

‘Crusader Arab alliance’ bombs Jabhat a-Nusra

US-led international coalition planes targeted Jabhat a-Nusra posts in the west Aleppo countryside and Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawiya region on Wednesday.

“Nusra positions that the coalition bombed Wednesday in Aleppo are a resting and meeting place for its fighters,” activist Omar Shamali from the Aleppo countryside told Syria Direct on Thursday, adding that Wednesday’s airstrike “was the first time that the coalition targeted the posts.”

Also on Wednesday, coalition airstrikes targeted sites in the Jabal a-Zawiya region in the south Idlib countryside, reported pro-opposition Shaam News Network.

“The Crusader Arab alliance bombed posts in al-Towamah village in the western Aleppo countryside,” tweeted Nusra’s Aleppo correspondent handle on Wednesday. The airstrike in al-Towamah resulted in the deaths of 15 Nusra fighters, most of them Turkish nationals, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
 
Coalition forces next targeted two Nusra posts in an agricultural area in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of the south Idlib countryside, including the site of an olive oil press used as a base, Sham News Network also reported on Wednesday.

For its part, Nusra published an official statement on Wednesday decrying the strikes and accusing the coalition of helping the regime, as rebels continue to make gains on multiple fronts.

Jabhat a-Nusra is part of the coalition of rebel groups known as the Victory Army currently fighting the regime for control of Idlib province.  

Aftermath of coalition strike on Nusra posts in the Aleppo countryside. Photo courtesy of Alsouria.  

Backed by coalition, YPG captures mountain range

The YPG seized a strategic mountain range on Wednesday from Islamic State forces, who withdrew to al-Shadadi, their stronghold south of the provincial capital of Al-Hasakah.
 
“Jabal Abd al-Aziz is a strategic mountain range overlooking al-Hasakah province and Tal Tamer and connects the al-Jazira region to interior regions,” Zagros Cudi, a YPG field commander, told Syria Direct.
 
YPG forces also seized several villages around Jabal Abd al-Aziz and the strategic Khaira crossroads on the eastern face of the mountain, reported pro Kurdish ARA News
 
Zagros confirmed reports that the international coalition was aiding the YPG’s “Shahid Robar Qamishlu” campaign to capture the western Al-Hasakah countryside from IS.

The Syrian army and National Defense Forces also engaged IS forces on Monday in the western Al-Hasakah countryside, reported Syrian state-run news agency SANA.

But Cudi denied any cooperation with the Syrian regime saying, “What regime are you talking about? There is no regime. We don’t recognize anything called the Syrian regime.”