Regime bombs Idlib after loss to rebels
Regime helicopters dropped four barrel bombs on a central point in Idlib city on Monday after the government lost the provincial capital over the weekend to a coalition of rebel brigades called the “Victory Army,” reported pro-opposition news agency SPC.
Even though the bombs fell on the Security Square, home to a series of government offices, there were few injuries, Raed Salih, head of the Civil Defense in Idlib, told Syria Direct Monday. Salih credited the lack of casualties to the Civil Defense’s cooperation with rebel brigades in rapidly evacuating civilians.
Regime forces began bombing Idlib on Saturday following a rebel takeover of the second provincial capital in Syria to fall out of regime hands. Rockets and mortars launched from the nearby regime-controlled city of Ariha hit Idlib Sunday, reported pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl.
Following the attacks, the Islamist group Ahrar a-Sham threatened to retaliate in kind against the nearby Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafariya, in a statement released Sunday.
Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan reported Sunday that “army strikes laid low hundreds of militants, dead and injured” in Idlib, “including field leaders in Jabhat a-Nusra.”
Opposition news outlets have accused the regime of using chlorine gas in some of the latest bombings, a claim echoed by Civil Defense leader Raed Salih.
Activists accuse the regime of using chlorine gas attack in Idlib. Photo courtesy of North Midea.
Assad forces push back near Deir e-Zor
Regime forces reportedly won control of several checkpoints south of the government-controlled Deir e-Zor military airport from the Islamic State on Sunday, marking their first advances in that part of the province in more than two years, a local activist told Syria Direct on Monday.
“Now the regime is initiating the attack, which may change the course of the battle for Deir e-Zor,” said citizen journalist Mohammed Hassan, based in Deir e-Zor city.
Before this latest offensive, the regime had lost many of its positions around the Deir e-Zor airport—located several kilometers south of the provincial capital—and had limited itself to defending against [IS] attacks, Hassan said.
The advance comes in the wake of the Syrian army’s attack over the weekend to claim a strategic hill, also south of the Deir e-Zor military airport, which IS forces have been trying to take since last year, reported the grassroots pro-regime Selmiya News Network.
At least 24 IS fighters were killed in that fighting, the majority of whom were non-Syrians, reported the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
IS won control of the majority of Deir e-Zor province in mid-2014, but has been unable to dislodge regime forces either from the provincial capital or from the nearby military airport.
Battle rages for key Qalamoun town
Regime and Hezbollah forces on Monday attacked positions on a mountain west of Zabadani in the hopes of capturing the rebel-controlled town along the Lebanese-Syrian border.
“The goals of the regime advance are for a media victory after the loss of Idlib and Busra al-Sham, and to protect its supply route via the Beirut-Damascus highway,” Abd al-Ghafour, a local opposition activist, told Syria Direct on Monday.
The mountain overlooks Zabadani—the largest town in the region between Damascus and the border—and separates Zabadani from the border itself. A Hezbollah supply route from Lebanon also runs through the mountain.
Pro-regime and pro-opposition news sources dispute the outcome of the battle.
Forces allied with the Syrian government have captured only one point on the mountain “and not the entire mountain,” al-Ghafour said.
The regime advance on the mountain, which started on Saturday, included launching more than 1,000 rockets on rebel positions.
The activist’s statement contradicts pro-Hezbollah media reports that regime and Hezbollah forces had secured the entire mountain.
Pro-opposition news Siraj Press reported 24 Hezbollah casualties, including an officer, but the claims could not be independently verified.
The developments in the western mountain come after pro-opposition reports that FSA and Islamist groups took two regime checkpoints in a village east of Zabadani on Thursday.
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