Syria Direct: News Update 8-20-15

Aleppo rebels attempt to root out IS, regime agents

The ruling rebel front of al-Jabha a-Shamiya issued an announcement Wednesday forbidding residents of a north Aleppo city who have visited or contacted Islamic State or regime fighters from returning to the city, one day after executing a young man accused of cooperating with IS to carry out car bomb attacks in the area.

“A number of our city's sons have become involved with the criminal IS organization, and others with the criminal regime...we encourage the families of these young men to cut off contact” with them, read the announcement.

The announcement coincides with a campaign to root out IS and regime sleeper cells in Tel Refaat, Maara and Azaz, pro-opposition activist Mohammed Fatih wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Tel Refaat and Maara are centers of rebel control in northern Aleppo, particularly the northern front.

Journalism training for activists

The Syrian Press Center held a free online training course for civilian journalists in regime-blockaded areas inside Syria to help young media activists better communicate local events to the outside world by gathering news at a “more efficient, professional level.”
 
The training, reportedly the first of its kind in Syria since the beginning of the war, drew 30 media activists, surpassing the expectations of its organizers, Ahmad al-Ahmad, journalism professor and director of the SPC said in a statement Wednesday. The SPC is an independently funded pro-opposition journalism organization with branches in north and central Syria.
 
Many Syrians out of school and without work have become civilian media activists, untrained journalists who are now some of the best and most important sources for information about breaking developments on the ground in Syria.
 
However, the same proximity to ongoing events that makes civilian activist-journalists key sources of timely information also makes it difficult for them to access training.

“I received an invitation from the Syrian Media Organization to attend a press training” Abu Muhammad al-Bardawi, a media activist in Wadi Barada, near Zabadani city told Syria Direct on Thursday.
 
“I was not able to attend since the training was outside Syria because of the siege imposed on us here and the difficulty of moving from one country to another,” said al-Bardawi of the war photography and newswriting training offered by the SMO, the official media outlet of the Southern Front rebel coalition.

A screengrab from the SPC online training. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Press Center.

Questions over mandatory enlistment in A-Raqqa

Activists from A-Raqqa province accused the Rebel Brigade of A-Raqqa, a Free Syrian Army faction, of “forcing” residents of Arab villages in the Kurdish-majority north to enlist, in a report published by Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS) on Thursday.

“For the past 10 days, the Rebel Brigade of A-Raqqa has been forcing Arabs who remain in areas under Kurdish control to enlist with them,” Hamoud al-Mousa, a member of RBSS and the author of the report, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“This is the first behavior of its type we have seen from the Free Syrian Army,” he added.

The Euphrates Volcano FSA-Kurdish coalition now controls northern A-Raqqa province after driving out the Islamic State, leaving the Rebel Brigade of a-Raqqa in control of the Arab villages in Ayn Issa, a region between Tal Abyad and A-Raqqa city.

A spokesperson from the FSA brigade attributed the claims to a misunderstanding.

“We are not implementing a policy of mandatory enlistment, but we requested from every village a group of people to protect their villages to prevent the Islamic State from returning,” said Abu Muath al-Raqqa, a spokesperson with the Rebel Brigade of A-Raqqa. 

“I think that the issue with the enlistment isn’t that it is mandatory, but some inappropriate practices by the brigade’s ranks are behind it,” Furat al-Wafaa, an activist in the Raqqa countryside, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

Rebels attempt to break Zabadani encirclement

In a bid to break the regime’s tightening siege of Zabadani at the gateway of the Qalamoun mountains, a joint Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham force captured two regime and Hezbollah positions overlooking the encircled rebel city on Thursday, reported the pro-opposition Qalamoun Foothills Media Desk.

The rebel attack, targeting two checkpoints in the mountains east of Zabadani, “resulted in the capture of positions the regime had previously used to shell rebel positions inside the city,” Thair Qalamoun, a Qalmoun-based journalist, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“The rebels killed a number of Hezbollah and regime forces, while capturing a T-72 main battle tank,” he added.

The rebel attempt to break the siege of Zabadani comes only one day after reports had claimed the city would fall to the regime within hours.