Syria Direct: News Update 9-2-15

Idlib town residents demand Jabhat a-Nusra leave

Residents of a town in the southern Idlib countryside took to the streets against Jabhat a-Nusra on Tuesday, calling for the fall of the group’s leader after partisans arrested the sheikhs of a local mosque earlier in the day, accusing them of practicing mystical Islam.

“The sheikhs resented Nusra’s practices in the town, so Nusra fabricated this charge that they are Sufis,” Abu Fawz al-Sayyed, a resident of the town of Khan Sheikhoun told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Nusra’s administration is a failure,” said al-Sayyed, adding that they have 600 members working in the small town’s administration “when they only need 50.”

Videos taken at the protest show dozens of protestors marching through the streets of Khan Sheikhoun chanting “the people want the fall of Golani,” Nusra’s leader, and calling for the group’s departure from the town.

“They don’t have any administrative experience, so they resort to these harsh religious decrees,” al-Sayyed said.

The Al-Qaeda affiliate came to control portions of the Idlib countryside following the advance of the Victory Army, of which it is a participating faction, through most of the province in March and April.

Islamic State allegedly strikes Aleppo and Al-Hasakah with chemical weapons

The Islamic State (IS) has reportedly struck both Marea, 26km north of Aleppo, and Al-Hasakah to the east with chemical weapons, local medical staff and activists told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Patient injuries are similar to the attack on Marea on August 21,” Tariq Najjar, Marea Hospital administrative director told Syria Direct on Wednesday, describing the attack the day before.

As many as 20 people were injured in the reported chemical weapons attack against Marea, which filled the city with a “loathsome smell,” reported pro-opposition Orient News on Tuesday.

Both alleged chemical attacks are reported attempts by IS to regain the upper hand in battles against rebels in north Aleppo and al-Hasakah. IS has encircled Marea, pounding it with artillery, infantry and car-bomb attacks, as part of a broader campaign to preemptively disrupt Turkey’s early-August plan to establish an IS-free “safe zone” in north Aleppo.

Meanwhile, more than 300km away in al-Hasakah, Kurdish forces are closing in on IS positions on the border with Iraq.
 
“IS is resorting to chemical weapons to recoup its losses in battle against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the southern and eastern Hasakah countrysides,” Ali a-Naif, a Hasakah-based journalist, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

On-the-ground reports hint that IS might have deployed mustard agent against the north-central Hasakah neighborhood of a-Salehiyah.

“The shell left a disgusting smell and shrapnel covered in a yellow, gold-colored substance,” eyewitnesses told the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (YPD) on Tuesday.

Syria Direct could not immediately verify a video of victim injuries or reported chemical artillery shells, filmed by pro-opposition Marea News Agency on Tuesday.

 Civil Defense inspect a shell in Marea. Photo courtesy of Shahba Press Agency.

South Damascus rebels unite to ‘stave off’ the Islamic State

Rebels in South Damascus united on Wednesday to fight Islamic State incursions into the area by announcing the formation of a joint operations room after IS tried to take over the al-Qadam district over the weekend.
 
In a statement on its website Wednesday, Ajnad a-Sham promised to fight the “wicked [IS] Kharijites…until we throw them out of our land in the al-Qadam and al-Asaali districts” immediately to the east.
 
Other local rebel groups are included in the alliance, with the exception of Jabhat a-Nusra.
 
“Jabhat a-Nusra [JAN] has no role, since it is an ally of the Islamic State in the area,” Walid al-Agha, a journalist in the nearby south Damascus town of Babila told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
 
“There is a group affiliated with JAN unilaterally fighting alongside Ajnad a-Sham in al-Qadam,” Agha said, adding that a JAN commander had traveled to the district to stop the group from participating with Ajnad but “was expelled from the neighborhood.”
 
The primary goal of the unified operations room is “to confront IS and stave off its attacks” in al-Qadam, al-Agha said.
 
Over the weekend, IS attempted to push west into al-Qadam from its South Damascus base in al-Hajjar al-Aswad, taking a number of buildings in al-Qadam and al-Asaali before being pushed out after fighting with local rebel brigades.
 
It was the second major IS incursion south of the capital since its fighters slipped into Yarmouk camp this past April with JAN acquiescence and took control of it.
 
The new operations room consists of Islamic Union of Ajnad a-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdas, Jaish al-Ababeel and other Islamist brigades south of Damascus, Mazen al-Shami, a journalist in the area told pro-opposition Orient FM radio on Tuesday.