4 min read  | Aleppo, Damascus, Politics, Reports

Syria Direct: News Update 5-19-2014


May 19, 2014

Rebels kill Air Defense general in Mleiha battle

Regime forces are seeking to recover lost ground in the town of Mleiha—10 km east of Damascus—on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, two days after rebels killed Air Defense chief General Hussein Ishaq in fighting for the town.

Islamic Front-affiliated news site Omawi Mubashar reported that government forces had struck Mleiha with six barrel bombs and eight surface-to-surface missiles in under ten minutes early Monday morning.

“Regime forces and loyalist fighters were attempting to recover buildings claimed by Jabhat a-Nusra and Islamist brigades” late Sunday night, reported the Observatory, adding that rebel fighters had called for reinforcements amidst heavy bombardment by regime forces.

Government forces early last month launched a major assault on Mleiha, which lies between the Syrian capital and rebel-held areas of outer Damascus. The town has been the site of heavy fighting for over 18 months, with rebel gains in late March sparking a regime counteroffensive.

Islamist groups sign ‘Revolutionary Covenant’ denouncing extremism

Five Syrian Islamist coalitions signed a “Revolutionary Covenant” on Saturday articulating a list of 11 principles seemingly intended to reassure both Syrian and Western audiences that the groups aim to establish a moderate, inclusive and unified Syrian state.

“The statement seeks to demonstrate that the signatories are a powerful political entity that has principles and respects its promises,” Walid Faris, a Homs-based political activist who follows the Islamic Front, told Syria Direct Monday.

The statement—signed by the Islamic Front, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, the Islamic Union for Soldiers of the Levant, Feilaq a-Sham and Alweiat al-Furqan—emphasizes the groups’ rejection of “fundamentalism and radicalism” as well as “any type of affiliation to foreign entities,” apparent references to the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham, with whom rebel fighters have clashed since the start of this year. The statement also notes the signatories’ determination to preserve “Syrian territorial integrity” and protect human rights.

The five signatories are Islamist coalitions ranging from more moderate groups with ties to the Free Syrian Army, such as Feilaq a-Sham, to hardline Salafi groups such as the Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham. The absence of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat a-Nusra from the signatories is noteworthy, as the group has cooperated closely with the Islamic Front and other Islamist coalitions but has lately clashed with the FSA in southern Syria. 

Menbej residents launch anti-ISIS strike

Residents of Menbej, a city in Northeast Aleppo province, initiatied a general strike on Sunday in protest of ISIS, including the Al-Qaeda splinter group’s detention of a number of Menbej youth. Dubai-based Alaan News published a series of photos showing that “all of the commercial shops in Menbej have closed their doors.” ISIS responded by opening fire on a protest that coincided with the strike; ISIS members also cruised through the streets demanding that shopkeepers resume their work.

ISIS took control of Menbej—located in northeastern Aleppo province—in early December 2013, and holds a number of other areas in the province. ISIS also enjoys control over almost all of A-Raqqa province, and has recently made inroads into Deir e-Zor. On Saturday, the opposition National Coalition accused ISIS of conducting three suicide bombings in the suburbs of Deir e-Zor, and warned of the group’s attempts to take over oil wells in the area.

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Children have endured an outsized share of the suffering from a 10-month siege of Yarmouk refugee camp. Photo courtesy of Chris Gunness.

Palestinian students allowed out of Yarmouk for exams

A reported 120 Palestinian ninth-graders were a granted temporary exit from the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus on Sunday in order to sit for nation-wide exams, even as unstable conditions prevented UN workers from distributing aid in Yarmouk for a fifth consecutive day. “The students from Yarmouk are being accommodated at UNRWA’s Palestine School and at the facility run by the Syrian government department,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness in a public statement Sunday.

Later on Sunday, Gunness released a second statement warning that assistance to Yarmouk remained suspended following an incident on May 13 “when two government military personnel were shot within the area in which UNRWA conducts distribution operations.” Yarmouk camp, which is home to some 18,000 Syrians and Palestinian refugees, half its pre-war population, has faced a stifling blockade by government forces since July 2013, with UNRWA delivering intermittent shipments of aid since pro- and anti-Assad forces reached a tentative ceasefire in the camp in January. 

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