Syria Direct: News Update 5-26-2014

Rebels grab Khan Sheikhoun along M-5 highway

Rebels appear to have captured the a-Salam checkpoint from the Syrian military in the heavily contested Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun early Monday following a furious weekend assault.

The Islamist brigade Feilaq a-Sham released video Monday morning purporting to show its fighters surveying the spoils inside the base, which include regime tanks.

Khan Sheikhoun is considered “the connection between northern Hama province and southern Idlib province,” Mohammed Ibrahim, a citizen journalist based in Idlib, told Syria Direct in March. 

The claims came one day after rebel fighters released video footage following their takeover of the Syrian army’s al-Khazanat military base to Khan Sheikhoun’s east, following twin suicide car bombings by Jabhat a-Nusra against the installation.

At least 16 government fighters were killed in Sunday’s attack on al-Khazanat, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which called the checkpoint the “Assad forces’ second-biggest stronghold in the area.”

Idlib42Rebel fighters mounted four suicide attacks Sunday in Jabal al-Arbayin, along the route from Idlib to Latakia. Photo courtesy of Islamic Front Focus.

Regime evacuates Aleppo Central Prison

Syrian government forces reportedly evacuated prisoners from Aleppo Central Prison over the weekend after breaking a rebel siege on the government facility last Thursday. “There are dozens of prisoners suffering from diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis,” Aleppo-based activist Ahmed al-Ahmed told Syria Direct Monday. “They have been moved to the Ibn Rushd Hospital in [Aleppo’s] a-Siryan neighborhood,” he said, adding that 60 female prisoners had been relocated to a juvenile detention facility in order to “ease the pressure on schools,” where the regime has placed most detainees evacuated from the prison.

The number of prisoners removed remains unclear. Pro-opposition news site Aksalser referred to the evacuation as “virtually complete,” while pro-opposition Halab News reported Saturday that the regime had evacuated most prisoners, “leaving only political detainees.”

Government forces took control of the prison late last week after breaking a rebel siege that had it surrounded since early 2013.

Jabhat a-Nusra strikes Alawite neighborhoods in Homs

Pro-regime newspaper al-Watan reported that "terrorists" detonated a car bomb Monday in Homs's regime-controlled al-Zahrah neighborhood—with a majority Alawite population—killing 12 people and wounding more than 20. Al-Watan noted that the explosion coincided with another car bomb attack under the Homs-Aleppo-Tartus Bridge, located to the west of the Homs refinery near a regime checkpoint, injuring a number of civilians and damaging surrounding cars.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights corroborated the casuality counts printed by al-Watan.

Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat a-Nusra issued a statement claiming responsibility for all of the aforementioned attacks.  

The 13 districts of the Homs's Old City have been entirely regime-controlled since rebels pulled out of Old Homs in early May, following a truce signed between opposition and regime forces. Rebels still hold some ground in the city's outskirts, notably in the besieged al-Wa'er district.

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria reported that 19 civilians were killed in Homs province last week.

VDC claims 6 new chemical attacks from April 18-29

The pro-opposition Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) issued an addendum to its report published on April 18th, titled “Syria is Choking Again,” documenting six alleged chemical weapons attacks between April 18th and 29th resulting in six fatalities and 571 wounded. The attacks fell in Hama, Idlib, and Outer Damascus provinces.

In producing its report, the VDC relied on eyewitness testimony from doctors, activists and reporters residing in the affected areas. In one account, Dr. Hasan al-Aaraj of Kafr Zita, a town in Hama, reported that after barrel bombs fell on the city, allegedly containing chlorine gas, more than 100 wounded were brought to the hospital. He said they were afflicted with “suffocation, dry and/or bloody cough, vomiting, and frothing at the mouth.”

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