Syria Direct: News Update 8-12-2014

Regime, PYD forces seek to rout FSA sympathizers in al-Hasakah

Regime forces and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) bombarded the holdout district of Ghweiran, where many residents are sympathetic to the FSA, in al-Hasakah city Monday night and Tuesday morning after attempting to capture it over the weekend.

“Fifty mortars launched from the military base and al-Ghazal Circle checkpoint, 15 artillery shells fired from Jabal al-Kawkab, and more than ten tank shells” struck the neighborhood, Ahmed al-Jazrawai, a civilian present in the Ghweiran neighborhood at the time told Syria Direct, adding that 20 were wounded, including women and children.

The shelling comes on the heels of a PYD and regime attempt to storm Ghweiran Sunday. Residents resisted that attack, reportedly killing five PYD soldiers.

The Islamic State (IS) is increasingly gaining ground around the provincial capital of al-Hasakah, most notably after IS captured the al-Milbiya regiment, located 10 km south of the city, on July 27th. IS began firing mortars into the city after that.

The joint regime/PYD attempt to enter Ghweiran, and subsequent bombardment of the neighborhood, suggests an effort to bring the entire city of al-Hasakah under one banner in the face of IS's advance.

Lebanese minister suggests border closure

Lebanese security forces stormed Syrian refugee camps in the northeastern Bekaa Valley, arresting a Syrian refugee in possession of a military uniform, the Lebanese National News Agency reported on Monday.

The camp raids took place less than 20 kilometers from Arsal, where militant Islamists took over the town earlier this month. The army took back the village, reportedly a sanctuary for Syrian rebels, as it is just across the border, on Sunday.

At least one Lebanese minister said on Monday that closing the border remains a possibility. “All options are open for the sake of protecting Lebanon” from the conflict in Syria, including “closing the borders with Syria,” said Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Darbas as quoted by Jordan's official news agency.

“I have established exacting standards to define someone as displaced [who can enter Lebanon], as follows: He must come from areas adjacent to Lebanon, and there must be a security reason – e.g., battles or fighting – that forced him to leave,” the minister was quoted as saying following a meeting that included Prime Minister Tamam Salam to address the refugee crisis in Lebanon.

As for gathering all Syrian refugees in Lebanon into one controlled location, Darbas said that “the matter is still under discussion.”

These developments come amidst rising tensions between the Lebanese government and the Syrian refugee population, now numbering more than one million in a country of four million people.

Unconfirmed reports from activists on the ground suggest that the Syrian refugee camps in and around Arsal were akin to “military bases” for the Syrian rebels, who used them to regroup on the Lebanese side of the border, according to the Emirati newspaper New Today.

Whether true or not, thousands of Syrian refugees around Arsal were caught in the crossfire. The nearby al-Qariya refugee camp was struck by 15 tank shells and burned to the ground during the fighting.

Regime strikes Mleiha, reinstates siege

The Assad regime launched a series of airstrikes against Mleiha on Monday after reportedly reinstating the siege against the strategic town in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.

“The regime forces now wrap around the perimeter of the town, restoring the blockade from the northern front to block off supplies from the mujahideen,” Mleiha’s Local Council, an opposition group currently running the town, said in a statement on Monday.

Meanwhile, the regime struck Mleiha and the surrounding area with 11 air raids Monday, according to the British-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Mleiha Map

Pro-government newspaper al-Watan appeared to confirm the strikes, saying “the army targeted the bases of the gunmen in the gardens of northern Mleiha.”

Islamists broke the months-long regime siege of Mleiha last week after targeting a cluster of buildings blocking one of the town entrances with a suicide bomber. Prior to that, the regime had launched an intense month-long aerial bombing campaign against the town.

Mleiha is considered strategic because it is the gateway into rebel-held East Ghouta and located on the road to Damascus International Airport.

Al-Maliki rejects Abadi’s nomination for prime minister

Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki rejected President Fouad Massoum’s nomination of Haider al-Abadi as prime minister Monday night in a defiant speech aired live on Iraqi television.

“We assure the people of Iraq and the political forces that there is no value in this appointment because it takes place outside the constitutional context.”

Standing with 29 supporters from his Shiite Dawa Party, al-Maliki called the nomination “a terrible violation of the constitution” and declared that he is still the head of the State of Law coalition – a Shiite-majority alliance - which won the most parliamentary seats in the April elections.

Meanwhile, SANA, the official Syrian news agency, briefly mentioned al-Maliki’s speech Tuesday, reflecting the Iraqi Prime Minister’s position that al-Abadi’s appointment is tantamount to a “breach of the constitution.”

The Syrian agency “called those concerned in the ranks of the army, the military force and the police to not be worried and steadfast in the face of terrorists because the mistake will be corrected.”

Haider al-Abadi, like al-Maliki, is a long time member of the Dawa Party. He now has 30 days to form a new government while al-Maliki serves as the interim prime minister.

On Tuesday, Iran, previously a staunch ally of al-Maliki, reportedly supported al-Abadi’s nomination, according to AFP.

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