INLAND EXCURSION: The Syrian government organized a weekend air excursion by Assad supporters to the Division 17 military base and the Tabaqa military airport in north-central Syria.
The delegation, formed under the “Strengthening Ambitions “ banner, flew in to distribute care packages and hand out winter clothes for soldiers, in what a report aired Saturday on Hezbollah channel al-Manar called “breaking the siege of the Syrian army’s position in a-Raqqa.”
“We will draw strength and energy from those shabab,” says a member of the delegation, referencing the young men serving on the bases. The delegation members speak nearly exclusively in the coastal dialect, associated with the traditional Assad strongholds of Alawite communities near Latakia.
“The flights are only at night, so that the planes are not targeted by members of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham),” says the al-Manar correspondent, over images of a plane taking off from an unknown Syrian airport in darkness.
There is no evidence that that al-Manar correspondent visited the base himself, nor is there a distinct landmark to confirm the al-Manar claim that the videography is in a-Raqqa.
Division 17 and the Tabaqa military airport stand as the Syrian government’s few remaining outposts in a-Raqqa. In recent weeks, insurgent extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham has consolidateddominance over the province, which had been under joint rebel control since the regime largely withdrew from the province in March 2013.
Division 17, one of Syria’s largest military installations, has been besiegedby rebel forces including the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front’s Ahrar al-Sham.
Since gaining control of the divisions, “ISIS assumed the battle there, and the regime has gained a clear advantage on the outskirts of the Division, especially on its western side,” a media activist in a-Raqqa, told Syria Direct.