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Syria Direct: News Update 2-19-2014

* Twin suicide bombings rocked the neighborhood of Bir Hassan […]

19 February 2014

* Twin suicide bombings rocked the neighborhood of Bir Hassan near the Iranian cultural center in southern Beirut’s Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, NOW Lebanon reported Wednesday morning. At least four were killed and dozens wounded in bombings in which a motorcycle and a car simultaneously detonated. Al-Qaeda linked group Abdullah Azzam Brigades quickly took responsibility for the attacks, claiming the bombings are a reaction to Hezbollah’s continued intervention in the Syrian conflict and demanding Hezbollah release detainees held in Lebanese prisons.

Bg0mRVuCUAA317PAt least four were killed when suicide bombers detonated a motorcycle and a car in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hassan Wednesday.

* The battle for Yabroud continues for an eighth day Wednesday, as heavy artillery shelling and Syrian air force MiG warplanes continue to shell the Qalamoun town and the neighboring village of al-Sahel, but government troops have yet to enter the city. On the ground, rebel group Liwa Tahrir a-Sham captured 15 Hezbollah combatants Tuesday, Abu al-Fida’a of the Qalamoun Media Center told Syria Direct, as photos circulate on social media of beheaded Hezbollah combatants and a video depicts rebel groups destroying a regime tank in the city. Meanwhile, official Syrian news agency SANA reports clashes continue between Syrian government troops and “terrorists” on the city’s outskirts.

* Idlib province’s Liwa a-Dawoud, one of the most powerful rebel groups in northern Syria, announced Tuesday it had unified with 11 other groups under the banner “Jaish a-Sham,” or “Army of the Levant.” The group will be led by former Liwa Dawoud leader Hassan Aboud. In July, Liwa a-Dawoud split off from the Islamic Front-affiliated Suqour a-Sham and later briefly pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS), only to withdraw their loyalty from ISIS after the extremist group started openly warring with other rebel groups, pro-opposition website All4Syria reported Tuesday. We “have no allegiance to any battalion inside or outside Syria,” the group said in their announcement, adding the group does not support any political solution to the Syrian conflict.

* Islamist rebels fighting government troops captured wide parts of the regime’s Chemical Base Tuesday between regime-controlled Suweideh and largely rebel-controlled Daraa as Syrian war planes struck the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Meanwhile, pro-regime newspaper al-Watan reported that Syrian troops had killed a number of rebels from Jabhat a-Nusra and destroyed a number of cars transporting weapons in locations across Daraa province. In the midst of the Geneva II peace conference, a number of Free Syrian Army-affiliated battalions in Daraa province announced they would coordinate in an offensive titled “Geneva of the Houran,” rejecting a political solution, and have since advanced in a number of areas. Pro-regime media cited Agence France-Presse in warning of a rebel advance from Daraa: “Daraa is the gate to Damascus,” al-Watan reported, warning of rebel groups armed with an influx of Qatari and Saudi weapons.

* In an interview with Syria Direct, Islamic Front spokesman Islam Alloush denied the Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham had massacred Alawite civilians when it seized Maan, a village in Latakia province, on February 9th. “We are used to the regime’s lies,” he told Syria Direct. “We will try to investigate the truth.” The government’s semi-official National Defense Forces (NDF), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon have all condemned the massacre. The NDF reports, and the Observatory corroborated, that 20 civilians were killed when Ahrar a-Sham seized the town, including 11 members of a single family, the Khadurs. On February 12th, the Syrian National Coalition released a statement saying only combatants were killed when Free Syrian Army forces seized the town: “Those who were killed in that battle were killed in action – no civilians were killed.”

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