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Syria Direct: News Update 3-19-2014

* Israel’s military announced Wednesday morning that it had launched […]

20 March 2014

* Israel’s military announced Wednesday morning that it had launched a series of air strikes against “Syrian army positions” in retaliation for a roadside bombing that wounded four of their troops in the occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday. “The targets included a Syrian army training facility, military headquarters and artillery batteries,” said the IDF in an online statement. “We will not tolerate this threat against Israeli civilians or troops,” added IDF spokesman Peter Lerner. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon stated that Israel would hold the Assad regime accountable for all attacks originating on Syrian territory, adding that “if it continues to collaborate with terrorists striving to hurt Israel then we will keep on exacting a heavy price from it and make it regret its actions.” Israel is believed to have launched a number of air strikes inside Syrian territory over the past year aiming to prevent the delivery of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

* Local brigades three kilometers south of Daraa city fighting alongside Jabhat a-Nusra captured the Gharaz Prison, the largest such facility in the province, at dawn on Wednesday after two months of rebel encirclement. The Free Syrian Army-affiliated Yarmouk Brigades, as well as the Darua Asud al-Sunna brigades, claimed to have freed 294 prisoners, 200 of whom are reportedly political prisoners, as videos uploaded to YouTube Wednesday morning depicted hundreds of prisoners celebrating as they streamed out of the prison some seven kilometers north of the Jordanian border. Syrian army snipers had used the prison to control a southeastern road into Daraa city.

* The United Nations delivered a shipment of humanitarian aid to Yarmouk refugee camp Tuesday, the first time assistance has arrived in the camp since February 28. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees announced that it had delivered assistance including 465 food parcels and baby formula. UNRWA spokesman Chris Guinness tweeted Wednesday that the organization had delivered 8,173 parcels since January 18 to a population of an estimated 40,000 Palestinians and Syrians. “There are between 5,500 and 6,000 families in Yarmouk,” an activist in the camp told Syria Direct Wednesday. “The amount of aid delivered isn’t enough for half of them. More importantly, one food parcel doesn’t feed a family for more than a week.”

* The United States suspended Syrian embassy operations in Washington Tuesday and ordered Syrian diplomats in Washington and in honorary consulates in Michigan and Texas to leave the country. US Special Envoy to Syria Daniel Rubinstein announced the decision  just one day after his official appointment, stating that “in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people…it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States.” Secretary of State John Kerry took a similarly sharp tone, stating that the administration “felt Syria’s embassy in Washington sitting here with representation was an insult. So we closed it.” Washington did not go as far as fully severing diplomatic ties with Syria, explaining that this decision was “an expression of our longstanding ties with the Syrian people, an interest that will endure long after Bashar al-Assad leaves power.”

* More than 90 percent of the approximately 450,000 Syrian refugees living outside of refugee camps in Jordan rent their accommodations, according to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Relief and Development on Tuesday. In 92,000 interviews in 2012 and 2013, the study found that 61 percent of Syrian children did not attend school in the 2012-2013 academic year. The study detailed one “positive note”: The “proportion of cases reporting receiving income earned from work rose from 28 percent to 36 percent between 2012 and 2013.” Only 49 percent of those surveyed reported receiving humanitarian assistance, down from 63 percent in the previous year. The more than 100,000 refugees living in Zaatari refugee camp outside of the city of Mafraq were not included in the study.

* Rebels seized control of the “Station” checkpoint in the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar as regime troops withdrew to the Air Force Intelligence Administration in the neighborhood of al-Abbassiyeen, blowing up several buildings in their wake to prevent a further opposition advance, the opposition Islamic Union of Soldiers of the Sham announced on their Facebook page. “Violent clashes broke out in Jobar between the army and armed rebels,  killing and wounding a number in the armed rebels’ ranks,” pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported. The neighborhood of Jobar is the northern gateway into Damascus, and contains a number of regime military and intelligence headquarters. Rebels have been attempting to seize checkpoints in the neighborhood since February 2013.

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