Syria Direct: News Update 8-6-2014

Regime gains control of strategic Aleppo town

The Syrian regime reportedly took control over the town of Khan Touma in southern Aleppo Tuesday night, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Wednesday, but an opposition activist claims that the regime’s victory was not so complete.

“Clashes broke out between rebels and regime forces at the regime air base near Khan Touma,” Yasin Abu Raed, a pro-opposition activist based in Aleppo, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

While the government took back much of the base from rebels on Tuesday, Abu Raed said that the rebels were able to push back and “regain control of the fuel supply warehouse of the base.”

The town of Khan Touma, 10 kilometers southwest of Aleppo city, is considered strategic because it contains large silos of grain and because of the presence of the air base nearby.

The regime recently opened a supply route from the southern countryside into Aleppo city and it has been a contributing factor to the government’s latest gains in the city.

Arsal truce collapses

A coalition of Syrian militant groups in control of the Lebanese village of Arsal, consisting primarily of the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat a-Nusra, broke a truce on Tuesday, negotiated hours earlier with the Lebanese army, after opening fire on army positions, according to remarks made Tuesday night by an unnamed Lebanese military source widely circulated in the Arabic news media.

However, it remains unclear which militant faction(s) attacked the Lebanese army, or even if the attack originated from the militants’ side at all. Unnamed activists quoted by al-Jazeera said that “the gunfire came from a place under Lebanese army control.”

The 24-hour truce, which was negotiated by the Council of Muslim Scholars and announced by radical preacher Sheikh Salim a-Rafai, stipulated the entry of medical and humanitarian supplies into the village and evacuation of the wounded. Militants also released three captured Lebanese army personnel after the truce was announced.

Arsal, a majority-Sunni town in majority-Shia Baalbek province, is home to an estimated 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters, who withdrew from the Syrian area of Qalamoun after being defeated by Hezbollah and the Syrian army. They then began to use the town as a base for launching cross-border attacks.

On Saturday, Lebanese forces in Arsal arrested Amad Ahmed Juma--variously referred to as an a-Nusra leader, and a leader of the Fajr al-Islam Brigade who had sworn allegiance to IS in recent months--igniting hostilities between IS and a-Nusra on one side, and the Lebanese army on the other.

IS reportedly enslaves 400 Yazidi women

The Islamic State (IS) allegedly captured more than 400 Yazidi women from Sinjar in northern Iraq Tuesday night, reported pro-Kurdistan news Shafaaq News Wednesday.

“IS distributed the captured women to its fighters in the forests of Mosul and Tal Afar,” reported a correspondent for Kuwaiti news channel Aladalah TV on Wednesday.

Yazidis are a religious minority in northern Syria and Iraq who speak Kurdish.

The kidnappings come in the midst of IS’s takeover of Sinjar, the homeland of many Yazidis in Iraq, which began Sunday, causing thousands to flee the region.

The area had been protected by the Iraqi Kurdish military forces known as the pershmerga, but quickly fell against IS’s attacks.

The loss of Sinjar is the first major military setback for the Kurdish forces in Iraq since IS took over Mosul in June.

Meanwhile, thousands of other Yazidis, fearing violence from the Sunni extremists but unable to flee, are stranded on top of Mount Sinjar, dying of thirst.

Sinjar is located on the northern border of Syria and Iraq.

IS’s capture of the area would allow it to have even greater access between its forces in Hasakah in northeast Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq.

Sinjar Map Thousands fled from Sinjar after recent IS attacks in the area.

IS to al-Hasakah youth: ‘Repent’

An announcement attributed to the Islamic State (IS) began circulating on social media Monday warning residents of the northeastern city of al-Hasakah of an upcoming attack, and calling on young men to report to IS headquarters to "repent."

IS began its attempt to wrest the city from joint regime-Kurdish (PYD) control more than a week ago, firing mortars at markets and residential areas, Islam al-Khafji, an independent media activist, told Syria Direct Wednesday. In response, regime and PYD forces began bombing IS positions from the nearby Jabal al-Kawkab.

These developments come on the heels of IS's seizure of the Fawj al-Milbiya regime military base on July 28th, which falls 10km to the south of al-Hasakah city. IS fighters seized a large weapons cache present in the base.

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