* The battle for the rebel-held town of Yabroud in Syria’s Qalamoun mountain range continued on Tuesday morning, as the pro-opposition Qalamoun Media Center reported that government forces pounded the city with artillery as regime warplanes circled overhead. The center claimed Monday that rebel fighters had eliminated all regime and Hezbollah forces from the Rima farms area adjacent to Yabroud—which has been a major flashpoint—and that the regime responded with heavy artillery and rocket attacks on Yabroud’s city center. Meanwhile, pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan reported that government forces had eliminated pockets of rebels, including Jabhat a-Nusra, in Yabroud, Rima and the town of a-Sahel to Yabroud’s north, where rebels gained control on Monday. Free Syrian Army and Islamist brigades in Yabroud are fighting to repel a regime and Hezbollah assault that began nearly two weeks ago, as pro-Assad forces seek to solidify their control of an area encompassing a vital highway and rebel supply routes into Lebanon.
* Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat a-Nusra, released an audio recording Monday in which he lamented the death of al-Qaeda leader and Ahrar a-Sham co-founder Abu Khaled a-Suri and threatened the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS), which Jabhat a-Nusra and other groups have accused of assassinating a-Suri in a double suicide bombing Sunday. In the almost nine-minute recording, al-Joulani gives ISIS an ultimatum of “five days to stop its excesses and submit to sharia law,” adding that Jabhat a-Nusra had “tolerated ISIS’s violations for a full year.” The recording marks a further escalation in the increasing schism between Jabhat a-Nusra and ISIS, which al-Qaeda’s central leadership officially cut ties with earlier this month. Al-Joulani went on to attack the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition and FSA as un-Islamic, declaring that they intend to “establish a secular government and destroy our Islamic enterprise.” At its close, al-Joulani demanded an official response from ISIS.
Jabhat a-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Joulani released a voice recording Monday set against a photo of slain al-Qaeda leader Abu Khaled a-Suri. Photo Courtesy of Thalamus Syri.
* The Lebanese National News Agency reported Monday night that Israeli warplanes had launched two raids on Jarrod a-Nabi Sheet, a remote rural area in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley along the border with Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the attack targeted a Hezbollah “missile base.” For its part, the Lebanese Army released a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the Israeli flyovers but making no mention of any strikes. “Four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace, flying from west to east over the sea and going as far as Baalbek and Hermel [in the Beqaa], where they circled over various areas before departing,” reads the statement.
* In comments published Tuesday by pro-opposition news site All4Syria, Free Syrian Army Secretary Captain Ammar al-Wawi countered accusations that the Supreme Military Council’s February 16 dismissal of General Salim Idris as Chief of Staff represented an internal coup, insisting that the move was fully within the SMC’s powers to “hold accountable and change the Chief of Staff and his deputies.” Al-Wawi went on to declare that Idris was removed because of his failure to deliver results for Syria’s armed opposition, adding that he had “been based outside Syria.” The comments come against the backdrop of deepening schisms within Syria’s moderate, Western-backed armed opposition, with General Idris having last week announced his decision—along with a number of prominent FSA officers—to “cut all ties” with the SMC and Syria’s interim government-in-exile.
For more from Syria Direct, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.