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Syria Direct: News Update 2-18-2014

* Syrian government troops and rebels signed a conciliatory agreement […]

18 February 2014

* Syrian government troops and rebels signed a conciliatory agreement and raised the flag in the previously rebel-held town of Babila in the Damascus suburbs Monday, pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported. In exchange, a fortnight-long ceasefire will be put in place, allowing for displaced citizens to return to the city, opening traffic to the town, and releasing detained residents. A government delegation, including Outer Damascus Governor Hussein Makhlouf, the leader of the National Defense Forces in Damascus, Fadi Suqor, and generals from the Syrian army, visited the town, where they were reportedly welcomed by the population, greeted by shouts of “Hands united, hands united!” Social media was flooded with photos of National Defense Forces soldiers smiling alongside rebels as the Syrian government raised its flag over the city. The ceasefire was reportedly signed in a number of towns near the capital, including Qudsaya, Moadimiyet e-Sham, Barzeh, Beit Sahem and Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp. Up to 100 citizens are reported to have starved in Moadimiyet e-Sham and Yarmouk camp in recent months as the result of a government blockade of the city.

NDF_and_rebel.jpgA citizen of Babila laughs with a member of the Syrian National Defense Forces in Babila in a photo circulated online Monday.

* Units from the Syrian army “eliminated a large number of terrorists” near the town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountains, official news agency SANA reported, including Abu Malik, the leader of the Islamic Front’s operations in Yabroud and the Damascus suburbs. Neither the Islamic Front nor any other rebel group has commented on reports the Islamic Front commander was killed. Syrian government troops supported by Hezbollah and Iraqi militias are pushing an advance in Yabroud, the largest remaining rebel-held town in the Qalamoun mountains in Outer Damascus, which connect the Syrian government in Damascus with regime-held Homs and the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous.

* Reverberations continued Monday after the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council unexpectedly dismissed General Salim Idris as Chairman of the FSA’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Saad al-Din, the spokesperson for the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, told al-Arabiya that the Council unanimously decided to dismiss Idris, and that the decision was connected to the incident in December in which the Islamic Front seized the SMC’s Bab al-Howa headquarters, from where it had distributed weapons donated from the U.S. and Gulf countries to rebels in northern Syria. After the Islamic Front seized the warehouse, al-Din told al-Arabiya, Idris was unable to redeploy combatants and failed to retrieve the weapons stolen from the warehouses. One Islamic Front commander signed the communiqué dismissing Idris: Liwa a-Haq’s Abdulrahman Soweis.

* Six rebels from the Free Syrian Army and dozens of regime soldiers were killed in clashes between the two sides in the town of a-Zara in Homs province, as Syrian warplanes struck the adjacent rebel-held city of Qala al-Hasan, pro-opposition Smart News reported. “The civilian hospital is full of the wounded,” said citizen journalist Khaled al-Hosni, adding the rebels had destroyed a regime tank during the clashes. Syrian air force shelling damaged an archeological site in the ancient city, al-Hosni added. Since mid-January, Syrian government forces have been seeking to gain control of the largely Alawite rebel-held Qala Hasan, which overlooks the road between Homs and the regime-held coastal city of Tartous.

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