Syria Direct: News Update 8-5-15

Ahrar a-Sham: ‘Key to the coast’ at stake in Sahl al-Ghab battles

The Victory Army battled regime forces in northwest Hama, Sahl al-Ghab villages and checkpoints on Wednesday, with an Ahrar a-Sham spokesman telling Syria Direct that the hills of the plains region “are the key to entering the coast.”

The rebels are hoping to capture the Tel Awar and Tel Hamke hills, as they are “the key to entering the coast, while the regime seeks to control them in order to advance its defensive lines protecting its points on [Latakia’s] coast,” Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz told Syria Direct on Wednesday, referring to villages and hills in the west Idlib and northwest Hama countryside.

“These are pivotal areas for each side to control.”

Rebels took control of at least one checkpoint after targeting it with Grad missiles, Ibrahim Shamali, a correspondent with the Umayya Media Center in Sahl al-Ghab told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

The checkpoint is one of several key obstacles for rebels along roads leading to the north of the largely regime-held Latakia province, Taftanaz said on Wednesday.

The ultimate outcome of the current battles is still uncertain, as rebels continue an offensive that began this past April.

Regime media confirmed the ongoing fighting on Tuesday, saying that better-trained, well-equipped regime fighting forces had relieved existing troops in the area, Anbaa al-Farisreported.

 Jabhat a-Nusra fighter in Sahl al-Ghab. Photo courtesy of .

As Zabadani campaign stalls, reports of napalm attacks on the city

Regime forces pounded the rebel-held city of Zabadani near the Damascus-Beirut highway with missiles and barrel bombs Tuesday and Wednesday, as reports circulated of the regime’s use of napalm during the attacks.

“The regime has used napalm in bombing Zabadani,” 11km from the Lebanese border, Amir Burhan, alias of a citizen journalist inside Zabadani, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

“There’s no direct proof except the massive fires in the targeted buildings, these types of fires only occur with napalm,” he added.

Citizen journalist Mohammed a-Rifi echoed that claim in an interview with pro-opposition al-Hal a-Suri Tuesday.

The regime hopes to secure Syria’s border with Lebanon by capturing Zabadani, and preventing the cross-border smuggling of arms and goods to rebel groups, reported pro-regime Lebanese channel al-Mayadeen last month. Control of Zabadani would also allow regime forces to concentrate efforts on rebels around Damascus.

Strategic Homs town braces for IS invasion

Islamic State forces launched an offensive Wednesday to capture a town sitting on a major highway in the middle of the triangle of Damascus, Homs and Palmyra in the eastern Homs countryside.

IS fighters launched three separate operations targeting regime checkpoints at the entrance to al-Qaryatayn, according to an announcement by the Islamic State’s Damascus media office.
 
Once a neutral city where town elders struck deals with both the regime and rebels, regime forces now control al-Qaryatayn, facing IS positions on the city’s eastern periphery.

Regime forces utilize the city as a transit point, connecting Damascus to fronts in northwestern Homs and Palmyra.

Pro-regime al-Ahed News reported that regime soldiers had “driven back” a large IS attack on al-Qaryatayn after IS targeted regime checkpoints with two car bombs. Reports of casualties on both sides vary widely.