Syria Direct: News Update 9-16-14

Islamic State downs regime warplane

Fighters with the Islamic State (IS) downed a regime warplane over the city of A-Raqqa Tuesday, resulting in eight civilian casualties as fragments from the destroyed plane struck houses below, according to the A-Raqqa Local Coordination Committee.

IS-affiliated Twitter accounts circulated pictures Tuesday purporting to show the destroyed plane.

The aircraft was part of a squadron that conducted five airstrikes on A-Raqqa city Tuesday. While casualty counts on the total number of dead were unavailable as of publishing, one airstrike killed eight in the neighborhood of al-Hasiwa, according to the anti-regime Raqqa Media Office.

The regime has intensified airstrikes on the IS-controlled province of A-Raqqa generally, and its eponymous capital specifically, since IS overran the Tabqa military airport in late August, parading captured soldiers through the desert in their underwear before executing them en masse.

Measles vaccination kills children in Idlib

A vaccination campaign against measles is suspected to have at least killed five children and poisoned 50 others in the opposition-controlled city of Maarat a-Nauman in southern Idlib Tuesday, reported the local pro-opposition news agency Idlib News Network.

The campaign, which began Monday, is part of a movement to combat the growing threat of measles in Syria to children under five years old.

Residents said they suspect that the vaccinations, which must be chilled at all times and must be administered by injection, were tampered with Monday night.

“The vaccinations were [distributed] at the administration stations yesterday without any complications,” said Mohammed Hammadi, a doctor and the director of the vaccination program in Idlib, in a statement Tuesday.

“All the factors indicate that there was tampering [with the vaccination] last night, most likely by a person connected to the regime seeking to damage the reputation of the health sector under [the opposition],” he added. 

State-affiliated news agencies have not yet commented on the issue.

UN withdraws from Quneitra

The UN withdrew the majority of its troops from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Monday, citing a “severely deteriorating situation in the past few days,” according to UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

Witnesses reported seeing UN vehicles driving toward the Israeli side of the border.

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UN withdraws forces from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Photo courtesy of @JackAsad1.

The UN withdrawal comes in the wake of last Thursday’s release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers who were captured earlier this month by Jabhat a-Nusra.

“International forces retreated from the area…two weeks after terrorist Nusra fighters funded by Qatar and Turkey abducted a number of international soldiers and trapped others,” reported pro-regime daily newspaper Al-Thawra Tuesday.

Over the past week, FSA-affiliated brigades and Nusra have captured a series of towns in the nearby Quneitra area, with Dubai-based pro-opposition news channel Al-An saying that the rebels control “80 percent of Quneitra.”

Barrel bombs in Homs

Regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on residential districts in the city of Talbisah Monday, leaving 16 dead and 70 wounded in an attack aimed at impeding rebel operations in the northern Homs countryside.

Talbisah, a rebel stronghold that falls roughly 10km north of Homs city, is used by various rebel brigades—including Jabhat a-Nusra and Feilaq a-Sham—as a launching point for an ongoing campaign to the west that aims to cut off the Masyaf road, an essential regime supply line that runs from the coast into the predominantly regime-controlled city of Homs.

The number of dead from the Talbisah bombing is expected to rise in coming days given that many of the wounded are in critical condition, according to the pro-opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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