Syria Direct: News Update 3-26-15

Rebels reportedly tighten siege around Idlib city

The rebel coalition 'Victory Army' continued its assault on regime-controlled Idlib city for the third consecutive day Thursday, after reportedly capturing additional checkpoints in the vicinity of the city on Wednesday.

“The Victory Army's men have entered a part of the city,” the group wrote on Twitter Wednesday. Ahmed Qura Ali, a spokesman for Harakat Ahrar a-Sham al-Islamiya, confirmed that news to Syria Direct Thursday, as did Abu al-Yazid, a spokesman for Ahrar a-Sham, citing as proof that the regime is bombing locations within the city.

Fighters led by Jund al-Aqsa took the al-Falaheen and al-Khaima checkpoints to the west of the city, the Victory Army announced on its Twitter account Wednesday. The al-Falaheen checkpoint is the strongest in the area and its fall will facilitate the capture of nearby regime positions, reported pro-opposition El-Dorar.

Rebels also captured points east of the city, reported the Islamic Front on Twitter.

The governor of Idlib province denied that the armed opposition had made progress towards the city, saying that they were still two kilometers away in a press statement quoted by al-Araby al-Jadeed on Wednesday.

Pro-regime newspaper al-Watan reported Thursday “there is no truth to what's being said about the [rebels] taking control of army checkpoints, whereas the battles have resulted in dozens of militants dead.”

IS suspected in north Aleppo suicide attack

Jabhat a-Shamia (JAS) officials said on Thursday they suspect an Islamic State suicide bomber of blowing up a checkpoint where JAS fighters were stationed in the West Aleppo countryside, reported the pro-opposition All4Syria news outlet on Wednesday.

“We can’t confirm that IS was responsible for the [Wednesday night] attack, but they’re the primary suspect as of now,” Warad al-Farati, Director of Jabhat a-Shamia’s Media Office, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“They’re the only ones capable of such an attack.”

Four of the injured were transferred to a field hospital while another two were taken to a facility in Turkey, reported All4Syria.

The bomber was in fact a member of IS, reported the Syrian Documentary Center on Wednesday.

“A man approached the checkpoint saying that he wanted to perform the Maghrib prayer,” said a man stationed at the checkpoint during the blast in a video posted Wednesday on Jabhat a-Shamia’s YouTube channel. “When he went down to pray, he blew himself up, causing a number of injuries.”

Jabhat a-Shamia units have clashed with IS forces in the north Aleppo countryside this month in an attempt by the latter to take over the strategic town of Azaz located on the Syrian-Turkish border, reported the Egyptian Arab 21 news outlet.

Explosions in Homs military warehouse

A missile of unknown origin set off a chain of explosions in a major regime military warehouse in Homs city on Thursday, targeting one of the largest pro-Assad militia areas in the city, local activists told Syria Direct.

“The first explosion at 3am was followed by seven explosions [from weapons detonating in the warehouse] that rocked the city and were heard throughout the countryside,” Mohammed al-Homsi, the alias of a local Homs-based media activist and a member of the pro-opposition Homs Media Center, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

The military warehouse, located near the southern entrance of the city along the highway between Homs and Palmyra, is adjacent to a pro-regime militia base, said Abu Baraa al-Homsi, another pro-opposition media activist in Homs.

Grassroots pro-regime news outlets blamed rebels and the US-led international coalition for the explosions, although Syria Direct could not independently confirm the accusations.

No group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of publishing.

Regime forces won control of Homs city, with the exception of the opposition-held district of Al-Waer, in mid-2014 when a UN-brokered truce facilitated the exit of the remaining rebels from the Old City.

Regime blows up Shiite shrine before withdrawing

Free Syrian Army fighters wrested control of a strategically located Shiite shrine in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Darayya from regime forces on Wednesday, reported the pro-opposition Darayya Media Center.

“Before the regime forces pulled out they blew up the shrine so that rebels could not take advantage of the liberated area,” Abu Ahmad, a member of the Media Center, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

Shiites believe the Sakina Shrine holds the body of Sakina, the daughter of Hussein, the first imam of Shiite Islam. The site overlooks a wide area of central Darayya where fighting has been occurring, and where the regime has recently destroyed about 30 of its own tunnels so that rebels could not use them, said Abu Ahmad.

Darayya is one of last areas with a major rebel presence in proximity to the regime-controlled Mazzeh military airport.

The media center also reported that regime forces dropped six barrel bombs Wednesday on the town’s center, causing significant damage to residential buildings and infrastructure.

Pro-regime Al-Aan TV also reported the intensification of fighting in Darayya, half of which is controlled by FSA forces, according to Abu Ahmad’s estimation.

Darayya56 Regime warplanes destroy Darayya Shiite shrine . Photo courtesy of Darayya Media Center.

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