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Syria Direct: News Update 3-24-2014

* Clashes continued Monday between rebel fighters and Syrian government […]

24 March 2014

* Clashes continued Monday between rebel fighters and Syrian government forces around the town of Kasab in northern Latakia province along the Syrian-Turkish border, with pro-opposition news site Latakia al-Hadath reporting government attempts to reclaim the town following opposition advances over the weekend. The site specified that opposition fighters are laying siege to a number of buildings in the southern third of Kasab, having taken control of the town’s northern sections including the border crossing with Turkey. Pro-Assad Syrian daily al-Watan disputed the opposition reporting, claiming that the Syrian army had sent reinforcements to Kasab and asserted full control of the town Saturday night. The Syrian National Coalition released a statement Sunday lauding the opposition’s progress in Latakia, declaring that the advance in Kasab “will have great impact on military developments on the ground in the coming days and weeks.” The fighting in Kasab over the weekend killed Hilal al-Assad, the Syrian president’s cousin and leader of the National Defense Forces in Latakia.

* Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane near the Kasab border crossing in northern Latakia province on Sunday. “A Turkish F-16 fired a missile Sunday afternoon against a Syrian warplane that violated Turkish airspace by a distance of 1.5 kilometers, which damaged the plane and caused it to crash 1,200 meters south of the border in the area of Kasab,” the Turkish military said in a statement quoted in Turkey’s Anadolu news agency. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the Turkish military at a rally in northwestern Turkey after the plane was shot down, warning that “If you violate my airspace, our slap will be hard.” For its part, Syrian state news quoted government sources who called the incident “blatant aggression” and charged that Ankara’s actions proved Turkey’s support for terrorism in Syria. Pro-Damascus Syrian news agency al-Ikhbaria posted video Sunday of the Syrian pilot, who survived the incident after ejecting from the plane and landing in rural Latakia.

Turkey downs Syria fighter jetTurkish forces shot down a Syrian warplane along the Syrian-Turkish border Sunday. Photo courtesy of @BBCWorld.

* One month after the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2139 demanding improved humanitarian access inside Syria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned this weekend that delivering humanitarian aid remains “extremely challenging” and that both sides may be violating the terms of resolution. In his first monthly report on the implementation of Resolution 2139, Secretary Ban stated that 175,000 people remain under siege by government forces, in addition to 45,000 encircled by opposition groups, adding that “the assistance reaching people continues to fall far short of what is required to cover even their basic needs.” The statement comes as international aid agencies continue to struggle delivering aid to besieged areas around the country, including areas in Damascus and its suburbs such as Moadimiyet a-Sham and Yarmouk refugee camp.

* Gunfighting between pro- and anti-Assad Lebanese killed one and wounded at least 13 in Beirut on Sunday in the bloodiest Syria-related clashes to strike the Lebanese capital since the start of Syria’s civil war. The Lebanese army deployed to contain the clashes, which followed a dispute that escalated into gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in Beirut’s al-Gharbi neighborhood; the details of the fighting remain unclear, beyond their having pitted supporters of the Syrian regime against anti-Damascus groups. The Beirut fighting follows escalating violence in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, where since March 13 Sunni-Alawite clashes have killed at least 25 and wounded 175, including 33 Lebanese soldiers.

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