Syria Direct: News Update 7-30-15

Rebels seek to enter Latakia through Jabal Turkman

The latest offensive around the regime’s support base of Latakia province brings the rebels closer to the heart of the Alawite homeland with the capture of two hills in Jabal Turkman, depriving regime forces of a key “forward defensive line,” a local activist told Syria Direct Thursday.

Now, the rebels “can observe Syrian regime forces’ movements” from atop these hills, said Wasim Shamdeen, a pro-opposition journalist and activist in the Jabal Turkman area.

Located roughly 60km northeast of the Assads’ home town al-Qardaha, the positions captured on Wednesday come on the heels of recent victories to the east in the Hama plains known as Sahl al-Ghab.

A Syrian Republican Guard soldier, reportedly captured by rebels in north Latakia. Photo courtesy of @Lionshunters.

Rebel groups including Jabhat a-Nusra and the Jabal al-Islam Brigade took part in the operation that was allegedly a response to the regime’s “Creeping Ants” campaign last month targeting opposition-held areas in Latakia, according to a pro-opposition video posted on YouTube Wednesday.

Opposition forces killed a number of regime soldiers and captured several members of the Republican Guard during Wednesday’s fighting, according to pro-opposition social media and confirmed to Syria Direct by Ali Addra, a journalist aligned with Ahrar a-Sham.

Pro-regime media did not report on rebel gains in Jabal Turkman.

Lebanese authorities arrest Syrian army defectors

Several high-ranking Syrian army defectors were arrested at a checkpoint in northeast Lebanon on Wednesday near the border town of Arsal, Lebanese state media reported, amidst elevated border security concerns.

“Lebanese army intelligence [mukhabarat] arrested 10 Syrian defectors at the Ein al-Shab checkpoint,” the official Lebanese National News Agency announced on Wednesday, listing the names and ranks of several of those arrested.

The army did not specifically mention why it arrested the soldiers, but the agency reported that security forces took the defectors for questioning following their arrest in the Beqaa Valley town of Labwa on Wednesday.

The defected soldiers entered Lebanon on the same day and were heading south towards the Lebanese interior when they were detained, local news site Lebanon Files reported.

The movement of refugees and fighters alike in both directions over Lebanon’s relatively porous northeast border with Syria stretches back to the very beginning of four-year war in Syria, but the threat of spillover fighting at the border has led the Lebanese government to take an increasingly aggressive stance towards cross-border activity.

Palmyra in Islamic State hands, for now

Regime forces lost two strategic hills and a checkpoint in eastern Homs to an Islamic State advance on Wednesday, strengthening IS’s grip in the area and weakening regime chances of retaking Palmyra, reported local opposition activists. 

IS reportedly captured the Jazal hills located 15 kilometers to the northwest of Palmyra, “which were the regime positions closest to the city,” Naser Thaer, an activist with the anti-regime Palmyra Local Coordination Council, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

The hills overlook the city, and were controlled by IS until the regime captured them two weeks ago. “Now IS has retaken them,” said Thaer.

IS also captured a checkpoint close to the nearby Jazal gas fields, which are still under regime control, the activist said

The regime’s lost territory represents its “first line of defense” around the Jazal oil field, activists were quoted by al-Araby al-Jadeed on Wednesday as saying. If IS captures the nearby Duwaa village, it will have cut off regime supply routes to the field as well, reported the London-based newspaper.