Syria Direct: News Update 9-11-14

Rebels, IS battle over Turkish border area

Rebels reportedly attacked the IS-controlled town of Dabiq in northern Aleppo near the Turkish border Thursday, igniting fighting in a strategic area that could potentially cut rebel supplies from Turkey, the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center reported.

The rebels began by shelling Dabiq with mortars Thursday morning, which then led to fighting outside the town, with residents fleeing the area, reported the Coordination of Youth for a Free Dabiq, a local pro-opposition news agency.

It is unclear which opposition groups participated in the attack, although the Islamic Front, a coalition that includes Ahrar a-Sham, whose leadership was decimated in an attack Tuesday, is the strongest rebel presence in the area. 

Elsewhere in Aleppo province, the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS evacuated its bases in the city of al-Bab, the IS headquarters in Aleppo, on Thursday, apparently out of fear of potential US strikes against them in Syria.

While the SOHR report on al-Bab could not be independently verified, other rumors circulated online saying that IS had also evacuated some of its bases in Deir e-Zor.

Nusra releases UN peacekeepers

Jabhat a-Nusra released the 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers on Thursday that it had held captive since capturing the Quneitra border crossing in a neutral zone between Syria and Israel in late August, according to Al-Jazeera’s Live Blog.

In a video released Wednesday, a Nusra spokesperson cited a “guarantee of security” that Nusra had given the Fijian soldiers as the reason for their release.

“What happened falls under the assurance of protection,” the spokesperson said, standing in front of the Fijian soldiers. “We must abide by this pledge. We must let the soldiers go.”

Meanwhile, in an odd sequence of events, Fijian General Mosese Tikoitoga also announced Wednesday that the soldiers would be released before quickly retracting his statements, suggesting a prior arrangement between Nusra and the UN. That day, the UN said that there had been no new developments in the negotiations.

Nusra had previously demanded from the UN the removal of its name from UN terrorist lists, the sending of humanitarian aid to the besieged towns of Ghouta outside Damascus and compensation for Nusra fighters killed in skirmishes in Quneitra.  

It is not immediately clear if any of those demands were met.

Kurds, FSA form alliance to combat Islamic State

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and various Syrian rebel brigades announced the formation of a joint operations room Wednesday in order to combat the Islamic State (IS) across areas of northern Syria.

The joint operations room, known as “Euphrates Volcano,” aims to wrest control of A-Raqqa city—the de facto capital of IS's caliphate—and its outskirts from IS hands, in addition to several villages and their environs across Aleppo province.

FSA brigades and the YPG formed Euphrates Volcano “in response to the deeds of IS gangs—oppression, corruption, humiliation of humankind, and attempts to snuff out the blessed Syrian revolution,” according to the text of the announcement.

Aside from listing concrete military targets, the operations room demanded that “the international community undertake its duty to destroy this organization [IS],” and called on “all who stand against this organization to present material and moral support” to Euphrates Volcano.

This, while President Barack Obama said Wednesday night in a televised address that the United States “will lead a broad coalition” to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.

Kurds-FSA YPG and the FSA form alliance in A-Raqqa and Aleppo provinces. Photo courtesy of @syrianfalcon11

UN report: 90 percent of Syrians in poverty by 2015

The Syrian revolution has cost the national economy $140 billion in losses since the spring of 2011, concluded the UN's Economic Commission for Western Asia (ECWA) in a report released Wednesday.

The report predicted that 90 percent of Syrians will live under the poverty line if the crisis continues until 2015, up from 18 percent in 2010.

In the realm of public health, the ECWA said that since the revolution's outbreak, child immunization rates have plummeted concurrent with a rise in the maternal mortality rate, adding that Syria has witnessed a spread in measles, typhoid, viral hepatitis and parotid in addition to the reappearance of polio 14 years after it was eradicated.

In the press release attached to the report, the ECWA concluded that “even if this task is getting harder day by day...it is still not impossible to save what is left of Syria.”

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