* In a rare public appearance, President Bashar al-Assad visited on Wednesday displaced Syrians in the parts of the northeastern Damascus suburb of Adra still under regime control, pro-government website Syria News reported. Assad “toured centers accommodating the displaced in Adra, listening to their needs and circumstances,” according to the Syrian president’s official Facebook page. Rebel groups, including the Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Islam, seized control of parts of Adra in mid-December, with pro-regime media alleging that opposition fighters committed a massacre against Adra’s Alawite community.
President Bashar al-Assad visited displaced Syrians in Adra, a northeast suburb of Damascus, on Wednesday.
* The battle for Yabroud continued Wednesday morning with heavy clashes between opposition fighters and government and Hezbollah forces, with the pro-opposition Qalamoun Media Center reporting that rebels had pushed back regime fighters around the Rima farms area to Yabroud’s northeast. The opposition reporting comes one day after pro-Assad Syrian daily al-Watan claimed that the Syrian army had “extended full control over the Rima farms area adjacent to Yabroud,” adding that Syrian forces had killed “dozens of militants in Rima,” which sits between Yabroud and the strategic prize of the Damascus-Homs highway.
* As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, roughly 65 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan fear they will never return to Syria again, according to a study released by Oxfam International on Tuesday. “The refugees included in this study fear that they will not see Syria again,” the study reported, “despite desperately wanting to return.” Of the third of those surveyed who expected to return to their home country, a full 78 percent of them said they had no sense of when that would be. Nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population has been displaced: an estimated 2.5 million Syrians have fled Syria, while approximately 6.5 million are internally displaced. Oxfam’s study polled 1,015 Syrians in Zarqa, Balqa, the Jordan Valley and Jawa.
* The drama surrounding the release of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns continued Tuesday, with Jabhat a-Nusra’s spokesperson in Qalamoun stating that 143 of the agreed-upon 153 regime-held prisoners were released in exchange for a-Nusra’s release of the 13 nuns and their three maids, according to pro-opposition website All4Syria. The Jabhat a-Nusra assertion contradicts claims made by Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, who told official government newspaper al-Watan that “25 individuals who have not spilled the blood of the Syrian people” were released. Jabhat a-Nusra kidnapped the 13 nuns and 3 maids after briefly seizing the Christian village of Maaloula in the Qalamoun mountains in December.
* Heavy fighting broke out Tuesday between Jabhat a-Nusra and pro-regime Palestinian militias on the outskirts of Yarmouk neighborhood in southern Damascus, according to pro-regime Syrian newspaper al-Watan. Al-Watan added that pro-Assad Palestinian fighters had “destroyed many Jabhat a-Nusra bases.” Al-Watan’s claims come a day after pro-opposition Sham News Network reported that tanks were shelling the camp. The fighting interrupted a period of relative calm that had prevailed since fighting broke out in Yarmouk earlier this month, when Jabhat a-Nusra fighters broke a fragile 19-day truce, charging that pro-regime forces had failed to fulfill their responsibilities under the agreement.
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