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Syria Direct: News Update 2-26-2014

* The battle for Yabroud continued Wednesday morning, with the […]

26 February 2014

* The battle for Yabroud continued Wednesday morning, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting two government air raids on the outskirts of Yabroud as pro-Assad and rebel fighters fight for control of the rebel-held village of Faleita, between Yabroud and the Lebanese border to the west. Meanwhile, the pro-opposition Qalamoun Media Center reported that a coordinated rebel attack Tuesday killed 150 regime and Hezbollah fighters, including five officers near Yabroud. For its part, pro-regime daily al-Watan claimed that the army had fully encircled town and “destroyed pockets of terrorists inside it.” The events come two weeks into a major government-Hezbollah push to claim Yabroud, the last major rebel stronghold in the strategic Qalamoun mountain range along Syria’s western border with Lebanon.

* Opposition and government fighters clashed early Wednesday morning in the town of Otman just north of the city of Daraa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as opposition fighters seek to control it for its proximity to Daraa City. Meanwhile, al-Watan reported Wednesday that government forces had “eliminated terrorists of Jordanian nationality” in rural Daraa. The violence comes as regime forces have intensified their shelling of southern Syria and rebels intensify their campaign in the area. 

* Homs governor Talal al-Barazi told pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with “affected parties” to release 58 young men detained by the Syrian authorities following their evacuation from the Old City of Homs earlier this month. The announcement follows an earlier agreement to release 60 of the roughly 400 fighting-age males who were detained for questioning after the United Nations-brokered evacuation, on the condition that they relocate to regime-controlled parts of the city. Meanwhile, an activist still inside Homs who goes by the alias Abu Louay, told Syria Direct Wednesday that those who remain in the Old City will not surrender themselves to the regime, stating that Old Homs’ residents are not like those in other besieged, areas such as Moadimiyet a-Sham and Babila, that recently agreed to a truce with the regime.

* The Syrian National Coalition charged Tuesday that the Syrian government has begun using the country’s supply of drinking water “as a weapon against civilians” and “a new pressure point against the rebels,” deploying barrel bombs and rockets to target water sources in “most Syrian cities outside of [regime] control.” The Coalition press release specifically refers to water lines and pumping stations in Aleppo, Homs and Deir e-Zor. Meanwhile, pro-Assad Syrian daily al-Watan leveled similar claims against the opposition, reporting that the Syrian army had “stopped an attempt by armed terrorist groups to attack the drinking water plant” near the town of al-Moshrifeh in eastern Homs.

* Rebel brigades claimed Tuesday to have killed Abu al-Qaqaa al-Tunsi, commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) in the town of Rastan in northern Homs province, according to pro-opposition news site Zaman al-Wasl. Al-Qaqaa’s death reportedly came during clashes in northern Homs after attempts by ISIS to assassinate rebel figures in the area. ISIS followers confirmed al-Qaqaa’s death on Twitter, with one supporter tweeting that “traitorous Sahwat pigs betrayed Abu al-Qaqaa,” employing a term used by jihadists to refer to Sunnis who fight against al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, a correspondent on pro-Assad Iranian television network al-Alam tweeted that the Syrian army was responsible for killing al-Qaqaa.

* In an hour-long interview with the Shada al-Huria news channel Tuesday, Islamic Front military chief Zahran Alloush spoke out about his organization’s ongoing battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS). Alloush emphasized that the only division within rebel ranks is that between opposition groups and ISIS, stating that “ISIS’s leaders abduct and torture children, the elderly, journalists and other rebels,” and that ISIS assaults individuals “before and after killing them.” He added a message to foreign fighters in ISIS, whom he described as “deceived,” urging them to cut ties with ISIS.

maxresdefaultIslamic Front military chief Zahran Alloush spoke out Tuesday on his organization’s battle with ISIS. Photo courtesy of Shada al-Houria.

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