* Pro-opposition Sham News Network reported Sunday that government helicopters were dropping barrel bombs on the Tower 45 military base along Syria’s northern border with Turkey, which rebels claimed to capture last week during the early stages of a military campaign in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province. The clashes follow a warning by Russia’s Foreign Ministry that the fighting along Syria’s Mediterranean coast threatens to undermine international efforts to destroy Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, which must be transported out of the country via the Latakia port. The Syrian National Coalition dismissed Moscow’s assessment, with Hisham Marwa stating that “the Russians ignore that the Assad regime has missed the deadline for the handover of its chemical weapons cache even though there were no military operations near the Syrian coast.”
* Pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan claimed Saturday that the Syrian army had “extended full control” over the previously rebel-held villages of Fleita and Ras al-Ma’ara between the town of Yabroud and the Lebanese border. “After regaining control of Fleita and Ras al-Ma’ara, the army will look to control Rankous and its surroundings before continuing west toward Zabadani, at which point it will have full control of the Qalamoun mountain range,” predicted al-Watan. The opposition Qalamoun Media Center reported late Saturday night that rebel brigades had destroyed a government tank near the village of Ras al-Ain, as they continue to target government positions in southwestern Qalamoun. The fighting comes two weeks after regime and Hezbollah forces evicted rebels from the town of Yabroud, roughly 75 km northwest of Damascus.
* A United Nations delegation visited blockaded areas of Eastern Ghouta in Outer Damascus Saturday, with activists publishing video of a UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy bringing 16 truckloads of humanitarian aid including foodstuffs and hygiene products into the town of Douma. The convoy follows another visit earlier this month to assess humanitarian conditions in Eastern Ghouta, and comes under mounting international calls for improved humanitarian access inside Syria one month after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2139 on improving humanitarian access in Syria. Meanwhile, local opposition media published video purporting to show rockets fired by the Syrian government toward the road into Douma shortly before the UN convoy’s arrival, with pro-regime sources reporting that the Syrian army had carried out “military operations” in the Douma area that “killed many terrorists and destroyed their arms and ammunition.”
Humanitarian workers delivered aid to besieged areas in Eastern Ghouta Saturday, including the town of Douma. Photo courtesy of SARC.
* The Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) has freed two Spanish journalists abducted by the group more than six months ago, according to a report Sunday morning from Spanish daily El Mundo. Javier Espinosa reportedly called El Mundo Saturday night to inform the paper that he and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Villanova had been released and handed over to the Turkish military. Last September ISIS abducted the two journalists—along with a third, Marc Marginedes, and four members of the Free Syrian Army who had been escorting them—as they attempted to exit Syria through the northeastern Tel Abyad border crossing with Turkey. Information regarding their health was not readily available. Journalists inside Syria have been increasingly subjected to violence and kidnapping, and last December 13 international news organizations signed a letter urging opposition groups to protect journalists inside the country.
* Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday defended his party’s involvement in Syria’s civil war, declaring that “the problem in Lebanon is not that Hezbollah entered Syria, but that it was late in doing so,” according to Syria’s official SANA news agency. Speaking at the opening of a Hezbollah celebration in Lebanon broadcast over Hezbollah news channel al-Manar, Nasrallah added that “our first military intervention in Syria was in the area of the Sayida Zeinab shrine to prevent its being destroyed, which would have had severe repercussions.”
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