Victory Army closes in on Ariha

The Syrian army battled on Wednesday for one of its last outposts in Idlib province after the rebel Victory Army captured a checkpoint overlooking nearby Ariha.

The checkpoint’s capture on Tuesday “is a step on the path to taking control of Ariha,” Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz, spokesman for Ahrar a-Sham in Idlib, told Syria Direct Wednesday. Only the al-Juma checkpoint remains before rebels are at the northern gates of the city, he added.

Rebels dug a 700-meter long, 25-meter wide tunnel under the al-Fanar checkpoint, filling the tunnel with tons of locally-produced explosives and detonating it on Tuesday, a rebel was quoted by pro-opposition Orient News as saying.

Pro-regime news outlet al-Bina confirmed that rebels captured the checkpoint, and reported Tuesday that “the Syrian army has begun a counter-attack to regain al-Fanar.”

Remaining regime-controlled areas in Idlib province include Ariha and neighboring Jabal al-Arbain, the al-Mastuma base, the Shiite-majority towns of Fuaa and Kafariya, and the Abu A-Dhuhur airbase, encircled by rebels for more than two years.

IS wins more of Deir e-Zor city

Islamic State forces came closer to consolidating their control of Deir e-Zor city, pushing regime fighters out of an island linking the IS-controlled countryside to the city  on Tuesday, reported opposition news sources.

“Saqer Island is a strategic area, as the regime was targeting anything entering IS territory in Deir e-Zor from its positions on the island,” Abu Mujahid a-Shami, the director of the Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently opposition media campaign told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

IS previously had to resort to ferrying supplies across the Euphrates river, which divides the contested city of Deir e-Zor from a countryside completely under IS control, as the city’s main bridges are only semi-operational and often bombed.

The advance comes after a week of heavy fighting for the island between IS and the regime’s elite 104th Republican Guard brigade, with both sides suffering dozens of casualties.

The Islamic State’s advance also threatens the military airport to the south of the island, which the regime relies upon to bring in supplies to the city due to IS positions throughout the countryside, added a-Shami.

“Whomever controls the island can control the city.”

Barrel bomb kills dozens in central Aleppo

A barrel bomb dropped from a regime helicopter on a major traffic circle in the Jisr al-Haj area of central Aleppo on Tuesday killed dozens of civilians in what pro-opposition Siraj Press dubbed a “massacre.”

“More than 50 civilians were killed and dozens others wounded, including many critical cases, most of them women and children,” Bassel Abu Hamza, a correspondent for Aleppo Today said in a report for the station.

“This is not the first massacre in this place, the regime committed another in the same area last year,” Abu Hamza said.

The Jisr al-Haj bridge, which the neighborhood is named for, runs over a traffic circle in an opposition controlled area of central Aleppo where bus lines converge to pick up passengers going to the western Aleppo countryside.
 
In his report from the scene, Abu Hamza denied a claim from Syrian state news agency SANA that that the air force had destroyed a rebel warehouse of weapons belonging to terrorist groups, saying that “all of the corpses were of civilians and there was not one corpse of a militant found.”

The fallout from Tuesday's barrel bomb in Aleppo. Photo courtesy of AMC.