‘Loss of Mleiha as important as the loss of Qalamoun’

August 19, 2014

On August 14, regime forces recaptured the town of Mleiha, in the eastern Damascus suburbs, from various FSA battalions—namely Jaish Al-Islam, Ahrar A-Sham, the Islamic Union, Jabhat A-Nusra, and Failaq A-Rahman—after nearly four months of heavy fighting.

In doing so, the regime cut off a potential entry point for the FSA into Damascus via Jaramana, a pro-regime town which borders Mleiha to the west. The regime also opened up a path for itself into rebel-held East Ghouta.

Here, two Syrians in the suburbs of Damascus give their accounts of the critical battle for Mleiha, and how its takeover by the regime could affect the course of the revolution.

Syrian army soldiers cheer after capturing Mleiha. Photo courtesy @zaidbenjamin.

“The FSA brigades of East Ghouta mounted a legendary resistance for 135 days,” Yasir a-Doumani, an activist in Douma, tells Syria Direct's Muhammad al-Haj Ali. Despite their perseverance, “no aid—whether international, Arab, or Islamic—reached the Mleiha front.”

As for the FSA's next moves, “in the coming days we will put forth all of our efforts to retake Mleiha,” Abu Hamza A-Dimashqi, the Failaq A-Rahman’s spokesman in East Ghouta, tells Syria Direct's Osama Abu Zeid.

“We've moved to the outskirts...Jisreen and the orchards of Kafr Batna,” the spokesman says, adding that “they [the regime] won't be able to advance farther than they have, as they're exhausted from the battle and its terrible losses.”

Abu Hamza A-Dimashqi: Failaq A-Rahman spokesman in East Ghouta

Q: First off: Why did you retreat from Mleiha?

After the rebels broke the siege for the first time [during the week of August 4], they secured a supply route for their fighters stationed inside Mleiha.

But the regime undertook several campaigns to reinstate the security cordon and succeeded [during the week of August 12th]. The rebels had dug some tunnels [under the cordon], but the regime discovered them—so we retreated, in order to save the lives of our fighters.

Q: As far as the retreat, how did it occur, and where did rebels retreat to?

After the regime reimposed the siege, we managed to open a gap, and the rebels escaped through that opening.

Regime forces are now inside Mleiha, and we've moved to the outskirts which they haven't penetrated. We now control about 20 percent of Mleiha on the northeastern front; on the side of Jisreen and the orchards of Kafr Batna.

Q: Why is Mleiha important to the regime?

Mleiha is the entrance to Eastern Ghouta. More importantly, the Air Force headquarters is located there, one of the most important regime bases in Eastern Ghouta. We were hitting the Air Defense headquarters on a daily

basis, causing terrible losses to the regime in terms of soldiers and ammunition.

The regime won't be able to advance farther than they have, the regime is exhausted from the battle and its terrible losses.

The number of killed and injured on our side was paltry, praise be to God.

Q: Why is Mleiha important to you?

Mleiha is a key town for the FSA, because it borders the pro-regime town of Jaramana, the gate of the capital Damascus.

Q: Will the Failaq A-Rahman forces pour their energy into retaking Mleiha, or focus on other areas in the coming days?

In the coming days we will put forth all of our efforts to retake Mleiha, and expel the regime forces, Hizbullah militias and Iraqi militias.

Q: Are there any statistics surrounding the battle of Mleiha?

The town of Mleiha was exposed over the course of the regime's campaign to barbarous bombing, unprecedented in the types of weapons used—warplanes, surface-to-surface missiles, heavy artillery, tanks, etc. We were hit with 786 warplane raids, 790 missiles, 7,000 mortar, artillery, and tank shells and 12 explosive barrels—all of which left behind massive destruction, estimated at around 70 percent of Mleiha. Neighborhood landmarks vanished entirely.

Yasir a-Doumani: Pro-opposition activist in Douma

Q: Why did the FSA retreat from Mleiha? Before their retreat they had gone on the offensive against the regime.

The FSA brigades of East Ghouta mounted a legendary resistance for 135 days. In the town of Mleiha, our brigades presented the most magnificent displays of sacrifice and persistence, and caused the regime both human and material losses.

The regime lost around 1,000 soldiers, and thousands more wounded, not to mention dozens of armored vehicles and equipment that was destroyed. The regime put forth all of its efforts to retake Mleiha, and destroyed the city with hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles and air raids, and imported sectarian militias—Iraqi, Lebanese, and Christian. No aid—whether international, Arab, or Islamic—reached the Mleiha front. All of the forces which support the revolution (international and local) cut themselves off from the battle.

Even the National Coalition, they stood by watching the battle without presenting any financial aid to the fighters on the front. What's more, they cut off all types of aid to Eastern Ghouta.

Q: The regime didn't take all of Mleiha. What areas did the regime take, and what areas does the FSA hold?

Correct, the regime didn't take all of Mleiha. They only gained control of the center of the town, and another few areas within. The FSA withdrew and headed towards the farms [in the north of Mleiha], the Tamiko factory, and the rubber factory, meaning the FSA still controls important locations in Mleiha.

Q: Why is Mleiha important to the regime? And how will the FSA be impacted by their retreat and the regime's advance?

The regime's most important checkpoints in the outskirts of Damascus are located in Mleiha. Also, the Tamiko area is in Mleiha—which is extremely important, as it is an elevated region which looks over the entrances of East Ghouta.

The goal of the battle for Mleiha was to reach East Ghouta by gaining control of Jaramana. Control of Jaramana means establishing a connection with Darayya in East Ghouta.

The loss of Mleiha is considered as important as the loss of al-Qalamoun.

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