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Syria Direct: News Update 3-10-2014

* The Syrian air force continues to strike the neighborhood […]

10 March 2014

* The Syrian air force continues to strike the neighborhood of al-Haidariye in Aleppo Monday, pro-opposition Smart News reported, one day after raids killed a Canadian freelance journalist, three members of the Civil Defense committee and six others. Pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported Monday that Syrian army units in Aleppo had targeted “terrorists” in the district of Sheikh Najar near the Aleppo Central Prison, where rebel troops have imposed a siege on government militias defending the prison as they seek to free between hundreds and thousands of imprisoned combatants and activists. The Syrian army has been attempting to break the blockade on its troops defending the prison, and have advanced to just seven kilometers from the facility.

* Rockets launched from the regime-held town of a-Nabek and barrel bombs dropped from circling helicopters are “violently shaking” the rebel-held town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountains, the pro-opposition Qalamoun Media Center reported Monday. The strikes come as clashes continue on the outskirts of Yabroud, the largest remaining rebel-held town in the Qalamoun mountains on Syria’s western border with Lebanon. Pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported Monday that regime troops had killed 15 rebels and injured more than 70 in a string of operations to the north and east of Yabroud, which lies 70 kilometers north of Damascus. The month-long battle for Yabroud pits Hezbollah and regime forces against rebel groups including the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front and Jabhat a-Nusra.


Air raids left widespread destruction in Yabroud over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Yabroud Local Coordination Committee.

* Amnesty International published a report Sunday detailing the devastating effects of the Syrian government’s blockade of the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus. A total of “194 individuals, all said to be civilians…have lost their lives since government forces tightened the siege in July 2013,” Amnesty reported, adding that most deaths were due to “starvation, lack of medical care and shooting by snipers.” Last week, a tentative, 19-day ceasefire that had allowed the intermittent entry of humanitarian aid into the camp broke down when Jabhat a-Nusra re-entered the camp, accusing the Syrian government of failing to uphold the promises of the truce.

* Jabhat a-Nusra released 13 Greek Orthodox nuns and their three maids into Lebanon on Sunday, having abducted them from the ancient Christian village of Maaloula in December and holding them for more than three months in the rebel-held town of Yabroud. Correspondents from pro-Assad Lebanese network al-Mayadeen confirmed that the nuns were “in good health” following their release, which was negotiated with involvement from Syrian and Lebanese officials as well as the Qatari intelligence chief. Pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan reported that Christian Syrian millionaire George Haswani also played a role in negotiating with Jabhat a-Nusra for the nuns’ release; this follows earlier claims by Lebanon’s anti-Assad March 14 movement that the nuns were being held in Haswani’s home in Yabroud. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the agreement to release the nuns also stipulated the release of female detainees in regime prisons.

* Jaish al-Islam claimed Sunday that the Islamic Front for the first time launched rocket attacks on three government military installations in Latakia, the heart of the regime’s support base. The Islamic Front added that it had targeted a military installation in Latakia city with Grad rockets, which were “certain to kill and injure a large number from the rejectionist militias,” referring to pro-Assad forces. Latakia lies along Syria’s western Mediterranean coast and has a heavy Alawite presence supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added that two civilians had been killed and nine injured in regime shelling of areas in northern Latakia city.

* Opposition media released a video Sunday purporting to show a poison gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburb of Jober, with pro-opposition news site Zaman al-Wasl reporting that five civilians had been killed in the attack. Zaman al-Wasl added that the regime has sought “for months, and with all available means, to control Jober,” which has a heavy rebel presence and which refused to agree to a ceasefire with the regime. The attack also follows a warning from the US Department of State that Syria is in danger of missing the June 30 deadline to remove all of its chemical weapons, having thus far removed only a third of its chemical stockpiles.

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