Israel declares Quneitra active military zone

A mortar shell landed inside Israeli territory in the Golan Heights Monday, resulting in no casualties, one day after Israel downed a Syrian drone that had crossed into their airspace in the same area.

The Israeli military then declared the Quneitra border crossing—a demilitarized zone on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights—a military area following the mortar incident, and advised farmers to evacuate the area.

Arabic-language official Israeli news station “Israel Voice” reported that “the mortar was probably launched during continuous clashes in the Quneitra region between Syrian regime and opposition forces.”

Rebel groups led by Jabhat a-Nusra captured the Quneitra border crossing last week from the regime. The regime has since launched a fierce campaign to take back the crossing, utilizing warplanes and ground forces.

Jabhat a-Nusra battles the regime for control of UN-monitored border crossing. Photo courtesy of Saida and Horan LCC.

In related news, the head of Fijian armed forces announced Sunday that negotiations are ongoing to free 44 Fijian soldiers, all of whom are members of the United Nations peacekeeping force stationed near the Quneitra border and were captured by rebels last Thursday.

Rebels on offensive in north Homs

Opposition forces attacked the regime-controlled town of Jaburrin 10 kilometers north of Homs city with heavy artillery Monday after capturing the nearby village of Haliya Sunday, according to a rebel announcement on social media.

By taking the Alawite-majority town of Jaburrin, the rebels hope to break the regime siege on nearby FSA-controlled villages located on a strategically important Homs highway northwest of the city.

“Haliya is the most important village surrounding Jaburrin,” Mortda Nahlawi, a pro-opposition photographer based in the nearby city Talbisah, told Syria Direct Monday.

“It is the first line of defense for the shabiha [pro-regime militia] and the strongest.”

Pro-government news had not commented on the rebels’ gains as of Monday.

The attack is being led by a collection of local fighters and Islamic militant groups, including Jabhat a-Nusra, the Islamic Front and Feilaq a-Sham.

Regime intensifies Idlib airstrikes as rebels gain

The Syrian regime carried out a series of airstrikes in northern Idlib province over the weekend in and around the city of Maarat a-Nauman, killing dozens—including up to 42 children—by Sunday night, according to the pro-opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights .

For its part, pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported that “Syrian army and special forces units destroyed terrorist dens...in Maarat a-Nauman, killing and wounding dozens.

The airstrikes come on the heels of a rebel campaign launched Friday, called “One Army,” which aims to unite a series of FSA battalions in order to take over the regime-held Wadi a-Deif military base that is adjacent to Maarat a-Nauman on the East.

Among the battalions participating in “One Army” are Jabhat a-Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham, Suqour a-Sham and Feilaq a-Sham.

Wadi a-Deif overlooks  the international Aleppo-Damascus highway, is used by regime forces to bombard surrounding FSA positions, and contains large stores of fuel, according to Saudi-owned al-Arabiya.

Between Friday and Monday, rebels managed to destroy the Wadi a-Deif administrative building, two tanks and a troop transport, according to comments made by Abu Omar, a member of Feilaq a-Sham's media office, published by pro-opposition website All4Syria. Abu Omar's comments could not be verified.

Assad pledges to take on ‘terrorists’

President Bashar Assad announced on Sunday, in a meeting with the newly formed Syrian government, that among its first challenges will be “the issues of security and war against terrorist groups,” reported state media agency SANA .

Assad reshuffled the government last Wednesday, reportedly responding to dissatisfaction amongst pro-regime supporters. But 21 of the 35 ministers retained their positions in the new government, including the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense.

“The success of the government depends on gaining the trust of its citizens by means of transparency, credibility, individual and institutional participation, as well as respect for the mind and honor,” Assad said, according to pro-regime newspaper al-Watan .

The Assad regime has faced increased scrutiny from otherwise staunch supporters in the past week since the Islamic State captured the Tabqa Airport in A-Raqqa province on August 24.  Last Thursday, IS released videos of what appears to be the executions of at least 100, and up to 200, regime soldiers captured from the A-Raqqa airport, causing many pro-regime Syrians to question the government’s strategy against IS. 

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