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Syria Direct: News Update 3-26-2014

* Rebels and regime forces continued the battle for control […]

26 March 2014

* Rebels and regime forces continued the battle for control of Kasab on Wednesday, which lies close to Syria’s border with Turkey in northwestern Latakia province. Pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan reported intense violence in and around Kasab, where pro- and anti-Assad forces have been vying for control since Saturday. Al-Watan cited sources claiming that the Syrian army had “killed more than 500 terrorists”—most of them Saudi or Chechen—since the battle for Kasab began over the weekend, and refuted rebel claims that they had taken control of strategic areas including the Kasab border crossing. Meanwhile, pro-opposition Latakia al-Hadath reported that rebels had stormed army positions in the village of Qastal Ma’af, roughly 15 km to Kasab’s south, forcing regime fighters to withdraw. Latakia al-Hadath also reported early Wednesday that opposition fighters from the Qadsaya Brigade had attacked pro-regime militias in the Idlib town of Kafarya, which lies on the highway connecting Latakia with Aleppo and which pro-Assad forces rely on for reinforcements. The fighting comes as rebel forces mount what they have dubbed the “Anfal” campaign to claim control of areas along Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the ancestral heartland of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.

* Rebel fighters claimed new gains in the 18-month-old battle for the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta early Wednesday, with the Islamic Union for Soldiers of the Levant claiming to have expelled regime forces from areas in and around the heavily contested village of Mleiha, which lies just 12 km east of the Syrian capital and overlooks the road connecting Damascus with the Damascus international airport. Mleiha has been heavily contested for nearly 18 months, with rebels making slow advances toward the Syrian capital. Rebels say they have captured four positions between the Tamico checkpoint—which rebels captured late last year—and the Nour checkpoint, which lies between Mleiha and the Syrian capital and is considered the largest security checkpoint in the area. Pro-regime Damascus al-Aan, meanwhile, reported that Syrian warplanes had targeted areas held by “terrorists” around Mleiha Tuesday.

10010592_798378480191098_699883602_o.jpgRebels on Wednesday claimed gains around the village of Mleiha, 12 km east of Damascus.
Photo courtesy of Young Lens Mlehani

* Syrian government forces shelled the towns of Telbisa and Dar al-Kabira in northern Homs, a week after rebels announced they would break a restive calm in the towns, 15 kilometers north of the city of Homs, in an attempt to advance into the northeastern city of al-Mashrafa. After government advances through southern and eastern Homs province, rebel groups once sparsely dispersed are now concentrated in northern Homs province, separated from the 13 blockaded neighborhood of Old Homs by dozens of heavily fortified government checkpoints. Meanwhile, citizen journalist Seif Abu Yezen told Syria Direct of “tension” and “caution” in northern Homs, as pro-regime television channel a-Sama reported Tuesday that Syrian army troops had killed a number of “terrorists” attempting to advance eastward through the villages of al-Aameriya and Tel Omri toward Mashrafa.

* A Syrian woman living as a refugee in Lebanon self-immolated Tuesday in front of her children at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registration center in northern Lebanon Tuesday, expressing “her despair toward her inability to secure food aid for her family,” according to pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl. Lebanese newspaper al-Hayat reported a UNHCR spokesperson had confirmed that the woman, in her fifties, was being treated for severe burns in a nearby hospital. Over a million Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011.

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