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Syria Direct: News Update 3-16-2014

* Syrian opposition sources on Sunday acknowledged that government and […]

16 March 2014

* Syrian opposition sources on Sunday acknowledged that government and Hezbollah forces had advanced into the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, but refuted claims that pro-Assad fighters had gained full control of the town. “The regime has penetrated into the heart of Yabroud and taken control of wide swathes of the town,” a citizen journalist with the pro-opposition Syria Press News Agency told Syria Direct Sunday morning. “The Free Syrian Army and Islamist brigades are only present in in southern Yabroud,” he added. Meanwhile, Ahrar a-Sham claimed on Twitter that the battle for Yabroud remained “back and forth” and that opposition forces have “killed many from the Shiite militias,” while urging supporters to “pray for your brothers’ resilience.” The opposition claims come after Syrian state news reported Sunday morning that the Syrian army had “taken full control of Yabroud and is now combing the city.”

Bit7GBcIAAA_NMj.jpgYabroud fell to regime forces Saturday after a month-long regime and Hezbollah assault. Photo courtesy of @kassim_chahrour.

* United Nations Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi warned the Syrian government against holding presidential elections scheduled for June 2014 Saturday, stressing they would weaken efforts at peace negotiations as the Syrian war enters its fourth year. “If there is an election, my suspicion is the opposition, the entire opposition, would probably not be interested in talking to the government,” he said. Ibrahimi confirmed that he has asked the United Nations Security Council for assistance in reconvening the Geneva peace talks, stalled since mid-February. Last Monday, Syria’s parliament discussed a draft electoral law that would place new restrictions on candidates in the upcoming elections; President Bashar al-Assad has never run against an opposition candidate.

* The battle for Mourik in northern Hama province continued Saturday as rebel troops shelled regime positions in southern Mourik with artillery fire, pro-opposition Smart News reported.  As rebels report killing dozens of Syrian troops, Syrian air force warplanes dropped barrel bombs on Mourik as well as the eastern Hama province town of Agirbat. In a battle they have dubbed both “Qadimoun” and “the Gates of Hama,” rebel factions including the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army have established an arc of control in southern Idlib and northeastern Hama provinces disrupting government supply routes along the north-south M-5 highway.

* A group calling themselves the Islamic Liberation Front of the Euphrates ambushed an Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) headquarters in the Sereen granaries in the village of a-Dukkan in northern Aleppo province Saturday, killing 20 ISIS combatants, pro-opposition Smart News reported. The Islamist-leaning rebel group, which coalesced in early February, has pledged to expel ISIS from northern Syria and claims to have killed 40 ISIS combatants in their ambush.

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