Syria Direct: News Update 12-8-14


December 8, 2014

Nusra finds new use for UN vehicle

Jabhat a-Nusra attempted to stymie regime gains in the Daraa city of Sheikh Miskeen Sunday, targeting officers’ barracks with two car bombs, one of which was a UN vehicle stuffed with explosives, according to an official Nusra Twitter account.

In recent days, Nusra and other rebel battalions have struggled to resist regime encroachments on the city, located in the center of Daraa province, after capturing a large portion of Sheikh Miskeen from government forces in mid-November.

The regime controls territory to the east and north of Sheikh Miskeen, while the rebels are entrenched in the west. By taking the city, the rebels hope to cut off the nearby supply road between Damascus and the eponymous provincial capital.

Nusra appeared to use a Russian-made BMP-1 armored vehicle and a UN truck in the attacks, the first of which was carried out by a suicide bomber, according to pictures posted on the Nusra Twitter account. 

Nusra followed the suicide attacks by advancing on the nearby Brigade 82 army base, reported pro-opposition news channel Al-Aan TV.

The regime responded by launching 17 airstrikes across the province on Sunday, Al-Aan added.

Israeli planes reportedly strike Hezbollah arms shipment near Damascus

Israeli warplanes struck the vicinity of Damascus International Airport and the Dimas airport in northwestern Damascus on Sunday in an apparent effort to destroy missiles headed to Hezbollah forces, reported London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed Monday.

“The Israeli enemy, in a barefaced act of aggression, targeted two safe areas in the outskirts of Damascus yesterday afternoon, [striking the area of] al-Dimas and the international civilian Damascus airport,” reported state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper Monday.

The Syrian general command wrote that “this direct Israeli aggression [Sunday] aims to aid terrorists in Syria after our armed forces recorded important victories in Deir e-Zor, Aleppo, and other areas,” in an announcement quoted by Syrian official news agency SANA.

Official Israeli sources did not claim or deny responsibility for the attack.

Jeff White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the attacks as indicative of Israeli intervention in Syria.

“This is part of an Israeli pattern where, when they see a shipment of destabilizing arms going to Hezbollah, they strike,” White told the Washington Post Sunday.

IsraelAttack Israeli airstrike near Damascus on Sunday. Photo courtesy of @alhayat_syria

IS renews assault on Deir e-Zor airport

The Islamic State struck the Deir e-Zor military airport with a suicide car bomb Sunday night while continuing its assault on the last regime stronghold in the province, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported on Monday.

The regime responded by launching airstrikes aiming to oust IS from the town of Jafra to the airport’s north, the pro-regime Lebanese news agency Assafir reported Monday.

The car bombing comes on the heels of reports that regime soldiers used chlorine gas to drive back the IS assault on the airport over the weekend.

“The regime used chlorine gas against IS, resulting in four suffocations,” Mohammed Hassan, a media activist in Deir e-Zor city told Syria Direct on Sunday.

IS has been pushing for full control of the oil-rich eastern province of Deir e-Zor since ousting Jabhat a-Nusra from the area in July. Over the past week, IS has ramped up its campaign against the airport.

Historic Aleppo mosque blown up

The historic a-Sultaniya mosque in Aleppo’s Old City exploded Sunday as opposition and regime sources traded accusations of responsibility on Monday.

“Assad’s forces blew up the archeological a-Sultaniya mosque in order to prevent rebels from taking it over,” reported pro-opposition Sham News Network.

For its part, Syrian official news agency SANA charged that “terrorist takfiri organizations” were responsible for the incident.

The explosion was caused by the detonation of a tunnel running under the mosque, according to pro-regime Syria News. Similar tunnel bombs have destroyed a number of archeological sites in Aleppo’s Old City.

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