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Syria Direct: News Update 3-18-2014

* Syrian government forces sought to extend their control west […]

18 March 2014

* Syrian government forces sought to extend their control west of the recently captured town of Yabroud Tuesday, according to pro-Assad news sources. Iranian network al-Alam reported that the Syrian army “did not stop after controlling Yabroud and the surrounding hills, but continued advancing toward areas to which militants had fled,” including Rankous to Yabroud’s southwest and Fleita and Ras al-Ma’ara to its northwest. Yabroud’s fall has pushed the fighting in Syria’s Qalamoun mountain range closer to Lebanon, threatening to increase spillover violence. Meanwhile, a Syrian construction worker was found stabbed to death outside of Beirut Tuesday, with the words “in revenge for Yabroud” written in the victim’s blood on a nearby wall, one day after rockets struck a Shiite town in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley. Meanwhile, the Lebanese army has reportedly sent commandos to fortify its border with Syria in the aftermath of Yabroud’s fall.

* The US Department of State confirmed Monday that veteran diplomat and fluent Arabic speaker Daniel Rubinstein would replace Ambassador Robert Ford as Washington’s Special Envoy to Syria. The announcement was coupled with the release of a video message from Rubinstein in Arabic in which he addressed the Syrian people on the occasion of the uprising’s third anniversary, describing the day as “a somber occasion and a reminder to all of us of the work still ahead” and adding that “the United States will stand with you.” Rubinstein’s previous postings in the region have included Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, and, from 2009-2012, Jerusalem.

* Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba addressed the European Parliament Monday in an effort to galvanize greater Western support for the Syrian opposition, warning that the West’s failure to back Syrians in toppling President Bashar al-Assad would have dire consequences. Jarba argued that Assad himself is the main catalyst for terrorism in Syria, and that “we have been killed with Russian and Iranian weapons in the hands of Hezbollah and other mercenaries, but what has killed us even more is this appalling international silence.” Since the Syrian uprising began three years ago, the political and armed opposition has implored the international community for greater financial and, in particular, military support to assist in their struggle against Bashar al-Assad.

Ahmad Jarba addressed the European Union Monday. Photo courtesy of the SNC.

* United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi met with officials in Tehran on Monday to discuss the Syria crisis, with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hussein Amir Abdalhiyan stating that Tehran is working to arrive at a peaceful, comprehensive new initiative to solve the Syrian crisis. “The dimensions of this plan won’t be announced today, but we will continuing discussing this issue in negotiations and diplomatic consultations,” Abdulhiyan said, according to Iran’s pro-Assad Fars News Agency. Brahimi arrived in Iran Sunday for meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials to discuss possible steps in Syria.

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