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Syria Direct: News Update 3-02-2014

* Syrian warplanes continued raiding the rebel-held town of Yabroud […]

2 March 2014

* Syrian warplanes continued raiding the rebel-held town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountains 75 kilometers north of Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. On the ground, rebel groups are clashing with government forces supported by Hezbollah fighters as the Syrian regime seeks to advance into the last rebel-held town in the mountain range, considered the  backbone of Syria’s western border with Lebanon. After weeks of clashes, pro-government newspaper al-Watan said Saturday the Syrian Arab Army had gained control of a al-Kuwaiti Hill which overlooks the national highway between the government-held cities of Damascus and Homs. Rebel snipers from Yabroud have been targeting traffic on the road. Regime troops arrested 30 “terrorists” in operations on Saturday, Al-Watan reported, as it advanced in the town of al-Sahel, where rebels announced progress last week.

* Islamist rebels targeted the village of Athimiat Saturday, at the entrance to the regime-controlled town of Khanaser in southern Aleppo province, the pro-opposition Sham News Network reported. Abu Firas, a citizen journalist in Aleppo province, announced rebels had destroyed two regime tanks and a store of artillery fire while claiming casualties of 40 regime troops when they ambushed a checkpoint in the village. In the city of Aleppo, pro-government al-Watan reported that government troops are just a few kilometers from rebel-encircled Aleppo Central Prison, in the midst of what the newspaper described as a “rapid” advance in the province. Government troops have been reporting advances from southeastern Aleppo into rebel-held eastern Aleppo since late January.

* As the June 2014 presidential elections in Syria approach, a group of Syrian activists launched a Facebook page Saturday titled, “The People’s Campaign to Nominate Moaz al-Khateeb for president of Syria Against al-Assad.” In less than one day, the page has received widespread attention on the social network, reaching more than 53,000 “likes.” Al-Khateeb is a former president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, believed to be residing in Turkey. He resigned in March 2013, citing international meddling and frustration at a limited ability to bring about change, though he enjoyed popular support inside Syria. In December 2013, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal al-Miqdad confirmed that “no one can prevent President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election after the end of the current term in 2014.” Al-Assad has never run opposed in an election, allegedly winning over 90 percent of the vote each time.

Moath KhattibA campaign circulating on Facebook to nominate former SNC President Moaz al-Khateeb in Syria’s upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for June. Photo courtesy of The Popular Campaign to Nominate Moaz al-Khatib as President of Syria.

* Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group Jabhat a-Nusra battalions gained control of a “large portion” of the town of al-Merkedeh in northeastern al-Hasakeh province after violent clashes with the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units militias, ISIS, the Syrian government and rebel groups including Jabhat a-Nusra all control slices of the province and are vying for control of the majority-Kurdish province of al-Hasakeh. On Tuesday, Jabhat a-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani announced his fighters would confront ISIS after its suspected assassination of an al-Qaeda envoy and Ahrar a-Sham leader Abu Khaled a-Suri on Sunday, February 24th.

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