Syria Direct: News Update 8-24-15

Regime tightens Barzeh blockade despite long-standing truce

A regime blockade of a rebel-held neighborhood in northeast Damascus continued into its second day Monday after pro-regime forces closed all roads leading in and out of Barzeh, with no civilians permitted to enter or leave the area, reported the Barzeh Local Coordination Council.

The blockade was put into place on Sunday in response to an incident the day before during which pro-regime forces opened fire on a car they suspected of carrying weapons into Barzeh, Adnan a-Damashqi, a local activist in the area, reported on Facebook. The suspects were only carrying food and household items, the activist said, a claim that could not be independently verified.

The regime has breached the truce conditions numerous times since it was instituted in early 2014, Muhammad a-Shami, a Barzeh-based journalist, told Syria Direct. Yet recent regime steps point to an incremental return to a full-on blockade of the neighborhood.

Last month, pro-regime forces began barring food and supplies from entering through the checkpoints around the city, said a-Shami, adding that the regime is attempting to pressure the rebels for “more concessions.”

A local Barzeh reconciliation council initially brokered the truce with the regime after a several-month siege of the strategic district along the Damascus-Homs highway, situated close to Dahiyat al-Assad and Esh al-Worour, two Alawite-majority neighborhoods loyal to the regime and key military installations.  

The truce agreement also stipulated that “opposition forces control the inside of the neighborhood, the regime set up checkpoints along the perimeter and the reconciliation committees have checkpoints in between them,” Waseem Mahmoud, an opposition activist based in Barzeh, told Syria Direct in an interview in early 2014.

YPG trades IS foreign fighters for Kurdish leaders

Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces in Al-Hasakah province exchanged prisoners with the Islamic State on Sunday, one of the first successful exchanges between the two parties, reported pro-opposition al-Masar Press.

“The exchange took place with an Arab mediator from the town of al-Hawl who had a relationship with the two parties and was close to IS,” Raman Yousef, a Kurdish activist in al-Hasakah, told Syria Direct on Monday.

“Three muhajireen (foreigner fighters) from the Islamic State were traded for three leaders from the Kurdish Democratic Union,” said Yousef.

The YPG is the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD).

Previous attempts last year between the YPG and IS to exchange prisoners have ended in failure.

The Hasakah Youth Union, a local opposition Facebook page, initially denied the exchange took place, later amending its post to report that three civilians detained by the YPG were released after their families paid a sum of money.