Syria Direct: News Update 7-29-15

Ahrar a-Sham journalist: IS ‘activating its cells’ in northern Aleppo

Following a string of rebel victories in northern Syria, Islamic State attacks have resumed against rebel-held territory along the northern Aleppo front with IS “activating its cells and restarting operations,” a journalist aligned with Ahrar a-Sham, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

“IS booby-traps have started again after a recent calm in the region,” said Abu Khalid, adding that “with all the rebel victories in northern Syria, IS is stirring up its cells and restarting its operations.”

On Tuesday, IS carried out an attack in al-Malikiya, a village close to the rebel-controlled city of Aazaz near the Turkish border, targeting an Ahrar a-Sham headquarters, reported pro-opposition Shaam News Network.

No one was killed in the attack on the headquarters, said Abu Khalid.

The aftermath of an IS car bomb in al-Malikiya village. Photo courtesy of HalabToday.

An IS sleeper cell also opened fire on opposition positions in north Maara in the rebel-held northern Aleppo countryside (south of Aazaz and northwest of IS-controlled Al-Bab), reported pro-opposition All4Syria Wednesday, adding that FSA forces promptly surrounded them in a building.

Two of the IS militants then detonated explosive belts, killing two rebel commanders and injuring several more rebel fighters, said Abu Khalid, though opposition media varied widely on the casualty figures.

At least one opposition activist on the ground said the ambush was an inside job.

“What happened in Maara has caused great embarrassment in the area among the ranks of the rebel factions,” Mohammad Badr a-Din, an opposition field activist in the area, told Syria Direct, alleging that the members of the IS sleeper cell were FSA soldiers.

The sleeper cell members’ affiliation with the FSA has not been proven, said Ahrar a-Sham journalist Abu Khalid.

The Victory Army in Aleppo also resisted an IS attempt to infiltrate rebel territory along the front at Umm Howsh village south of Maara, pro-opposition Halab Today TV reported Tuesday.

Truce breaks as town refuses to give up civilians

Regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on an Outer Damascus town on Tuesday, breaking a two-year truce over the civilian leadership’s refusal to hand over wounded and displaced residents from the nearby regime-encircled city of Zabadani to regime forces, pro-opposition Shaam News Network reported.

“The regime wants the [civilians] in order to put pressure on the rebels fighting in Zabadani, since they are mostly their family and relatives,” an opposition activist in Buqayn named Salim told Syria Direct on Wednesday, adding that more than 600 displaced Zabadani families are currently in Buqayn.

Regime forces tried to enter Buqayn on Monday but were driven back in fighting that killed three soldiers, after which regime forces informed Buqayn authorities that the town would be bombed unless they handed over all fighters and wounded in the area by Tuesday morning, pro-opposition al-Souria reported Tuesday.

After regime helicopters carried out the threat, an appeal posted online by the Zabadani Municipal Council urged the international community to prevent the regime from further reprisals.

Over the past month, regime and Hezbollah forces have converged on Zabadani, 5km north of Buqayn, to retake the rebel-held town near the Lebanese border from opposition fighters who have held the town since early 2012.

Also after Tuesday’s bombing, Buqayn municipal authorities entered into a temporary agreement with regime forces to stop the bombing in exchange for allowing regime forces and media to enter the town briefly, All4Syria reported, although the future safety of the town remains uncertain.

Cornered by Kurds, IS losing foothold in Hasakah

Kurdish militiamen advanced against Islamic State forces cornered in one of its last neighborhoods in the south of Al-Hasakah city, a correspondent in the city told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Kurdish People’s Protection units have been able to take control of most of the [Al-Zuhour] neighborhood,” said Alev Hisen, a correspondent for Erbil-based Kurdish-language Arta FM.

Kurdish units began fighting to expel IS from the Al-Zuhour quarter of the provincial capital Monday.

Al-Zuhour was one of the first neighborhoods captured by IS forces when they moved into Al-Hasakah city a month ago. Since then, fighters with the Syrian regime and Kurdish militias have been attempting to push them out.

Regime and Kurdish fighters now control 95 percent of the city according to an estimation from Welati Network, a Kurdish news website, on Tuesday.