Syria Direct: News Update 4-20-15

Humanitarian aid reaches displaced Yarmouk civilians

The UN delivered emergency aid supplies to Yarmouk residents displaced in the nearby town of Beit Sahem for the first time on Sunday as it attempts to scale up its relief operations to deal with the recent crisis in the Palestinian camp, a local citizen journalist told Syria Direct on Monday.

The relief efforts only targeted Palestinians displaced from Yarmouk and did not benefit local residents, said Walid Agatha, the Beit Sahem-based activist.

Agatha’s account contradicted UNRWA’s statement on Sunday’s delivery, which said that “those receiving assistance are comprised of Palestinian and Syrian families displaced or affected by conflict, plus host families.” 

Syria Direct could not independently confirm Agatha’s claim.

The delivery comes in the wake of the UN’s increased efforts to serve those fleeing from fighting caused by the Islamic State’s invasion of the camp at the beginning of the month.

The UN has not been able to enter Yarmouk since fighting began, instead distributing aid to the nearby towns of Yelda, Babila and Beit Sahem, where the majority of Yarmouk residents have fled.

Recent reports say that IS has withdrawn from the camp, but YouTube videos and activists inside indicate otherwise, although it is unclear how much of a presence it currently has.

UN aid distributed to displaced Yarmouk residents on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Revolution's Spring.

IS moves closer to Jordan

The Islamic State won control of a village and an adjacent mountain from rebel forces in east Homs province 90km from the Jordanian border on Sunday, a spokesperson for the rebel group Liwa Asoud a-Sharqiya, who previously controlled the town, told Syria Direct on Monday. 

“The fighting is ongoing and [we will form] a new alliance to stop [IS],” said the spokesperson.

Liwa Asoud a-Sharqiya and Jaish al-Islam are the most prominent rebel groups in the otherwise sparsely populated desert region.

Pro-IS news agency Dawaal Haq confirmed IS control of the town.

 “IS control of the town of al-Alianiyeh will be a big danger for displaced Syrians fleeing to Jordan because the town is an important rest stop on the way to the only remaining entrance point into Jordan from Syria,” an activist who goes by the alias Shadi al-Tedmuri told Syria Direct.

Suwayda Druze capture Daraa men in revenge operation

Fighters loyal to the powerful Druze Sheikh Waheed al-Balaus stormed a village in Daraa province Sunday and captured two men reportedly connected to Jabhat a-Nusra. The raid came in response to Nusra’s, as well as regime-affiliated gangs’ repeated kidnappings of Druze from Suwayda province, reported pro-Druze Mubasher Suwayda.

“We were able to enter into their own houses and treat them the same way [they treated us] so they would learn a lesson, and return our kidnapped sons as fast as possible,” Sheikh al-Balaus wrote on Facebook Sunday.

The operation occurred in cooperation with Sheikh al-Hanawi (one of the three spiritual leaders—Mashaykh al-Aql—of Suwayda province) and the armed group left future exchange negotiations to the Mashaykh al-Aql, reported Mubasher Suwayda.

“Kidnapping operations between Daraa and Suwayda have happened repeatedly and will continue, they have been going on for around two years,” Hafiz Faraj, a defected Druze officer, told Syria Direct in a previous interview. Among other reasons, gangs from Daraa profit from the ransoms, he added.

Also on Sunday, armed Druze groups established local-staffed checkpoints at the entrance to Suwayda province while pushing out regime checkpoints, reported the Druze Facebook page al-Tawhidiyin al-Judud.

Regime tunnel leads to fighting in heart of Aleppo city

Rebel forces launched mortar fire on regime positions in the heart of Aleppo city on Sunday after thwarting a Syrian army attempt to tunnel into rebel territory in Old Aleppo, a local media activist told Syria Direct.

“The Ahrar Souriya brigade destroyed the tunnel…which the regime dug to infiltrate into rebel positions in Old Aleppo,” said Manar a-Sabouni, who reports for opposition news sites.

Rebel forces exploded the tunnel and the building to which it led, where regime forces were gathering, killing at least 15 and injuring others, the director of Ahrar Souriya’s media office told opposition Smart News Agency. 

In related news, regime helicopters continued to drop barrel bombs on Aleppo neighborhoods for the ninth day in a row on Sunday, reported pro-opposition news outlet el-Dorar.

Regime attacks in Aleppo city have intensified dramatically since Syria’s Grand Mufti called for a “total extermination” of areas outside of the government’s control ten days ago.