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Syria Direct: News Update 3-17-2014

* The Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Islam and the Soldiers of […]

17 March 2014

* The Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Islam and the Soldiers of the Sham Islamic Union continue on Monday to battle with government troops and National Defense Forces in the town of Adra, 25 kilometers northeast of Damascus. On Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance when he visited displaced Syrians in the town, where Jaish al-Islam is accused of perpetrating a massacre of Alawites after seizing partial control of the town in December 2013. The next day, rebels announced they had “liberated” the town and its surrounding areas. Since December, Jaish al-Islam, the Soldiers of the Sham Islamic Union, Jabhat a-Nusra and other local groups have been coordinating in the “Allah A’ale wa Ajl” battle to wrest complete control of the eastern Damascus suburbs from regime troops.

* A Jabhat a-Nusra spokesman, Abdullah Azam a-Shami, announced Sunday that the Syrian government had taken complete control of the town of Yabroud after rebel troops withdrew over the weekend. After other groups fled, Jabhat a-Nusra led a small contingent of fighters continuing to battle for the city until noon Sunday, a-Shami said, in a detailed description of the city’s fall into government hands. “We were surprised the army took a position Tel Mermeroun without any resistance to speak of,” he wrote on Twitter, referencing a hillside east of the town. Pro-government newspaper al-Watan, meanwhile reported Monday that the Deputy General Commander of Syria’s Armed Forces Fahed Jasem al-Fareej visited Yabroud Sunday. The battle for Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountains along Syria’s western border with Lebanon pitted Syrian government and Hezbollah troops against a coalition of rebels including the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army, and lasted for more than one month.

YabroudA journalist conducts an interview with a Syrian army leader in Yabroud

* Jabhat a-Nusra in Lebanon claimed responsibility Sunday for detonating a car bomb in the Lebanese town of a-Nabi Othman Sunday, a Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley, killing two and wounding 14. The bombing was a “response” to Hezbollah’s recent intervention alongside Syrian troops in the battle for Yabroud in Syria’s Qalamoun mountains, Hezbollah television channel al-Manar reported. Jabhat a-Nusra titled their suicide bombing “a blessed martyrdom operation on the Party of Iran headquarters in al-Nabi Othman.”

* The Western-backed Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Coalition’s military counterpart, announced Sunday they would reorganize their ranks. “The reformation of the Joint Command and reunification of military efforts of the Free Syrian Army” includes “a project to built a ministry of defense” as well as “the complete restructuring of the Joint Command.” The FSA’s Joint Command, established in 2012 and headquartered in Turkey, has failed in its attempts to unify rebel groups under a single banner, as coalitions like the Islamist Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front have created larger coalitions on the ground.

* Syrian Foreign Minister Feisal Meqdad affirmed Syria’s commitment to destroying its chemical weapons arsenal in a Sunday meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) delegation to Syria. “Kaag hailed Syria’s cooperation and what has been achieved so far in the context of Syria’s implementation of its obligations,” official news agency SANA reported, adding, “the international community appreciates the progress made in this regard.” As part of an agreement between Syria and the United Nations’ OPCW, Syria agreed to destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014.

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