4 min read  | Politics, Reports

Syria Direct: News Update 5-20-2014


May 20, 2014

Activists claim 3rd chlorine attack on Kafr Zeita

Two people reportedly died after a government helicopter attacked the Hama village of Kafr Zeita with a barrel bomb containing chlorine gas Monday night, with local activists charging that the strike was more destructive than two alleged attacks on the same village in April.

“Given the severity of the injuries and the number of injured, we believe there was more gas and that the gas was more concentrated” than previous attacks, Hakam Abu Riyan, a spokesman for the pro-opposition Hama Media Center, told Syria Direct Tuesday. More than 100 were injured in the strike, Abu Riyan said. Opposition activists released video Monday night claiming to show adults and children choking after the alleged attack.

The reports come one week after Human Rights Watch released a report citing “strong evidence” that the Syrian government had launched five chlorine attacks on rebel-held towns in central Syria, including two on Kafr Zeita on April 11 and 18. Activists say the regime may be targeting the village for its proximity to Mourik, a strategic, rebel-held town that sits between Kafr Zeita and the M5 international highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria.

ISIS publicly executes 2 in Aleppo for ‘banditry’

The Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) published photographs Monday night showing a massive crowd purportedly gathered to witness the public execution of two “apostates” in the eastern Aleppo town of Deir Hafer. “The Islamic court published a ruling to kill two apostates in Deir Hafer on charges of hiraba,” reads an ISIS statement, using an esoteric Quranic term for the crime of banditry. “The sentence was carried out in a public square before the town’s Muslim populace,” the statement adds.

3_small.jpgA crowd gathers in the eastern Aleppo town of Deir Hafer to witness two public executions by ISIS.

The executions are the latest in a string of punishments meted out by the al-Qaeda splinter group in areas under its control in northern Syria, including the crucifixion of two men in A-Raqqa province late last month. On Sunday, residents of the northeastern Aleppo town of Menbej reportedly launched a general strike in protest over ISIS’s excesses.

Observatory: Syrian death toll surpasses 162,000

The death toll in the Syrian conflict has risen to over 162,00, an increase of more than 10,000 since the beginning of April, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced Monday. An estimated 80,836 of these are reported to be civilians, among them 8,607 children.

An estimated 13,529 foreign fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS), Jabhat a-Nusra and other groups are among the casualties, according to the Observatory.

The London-based organization is one of the few that has attempted to keep track of the death toll over three years of war. The United Nations stopped updating its toll in January, citing increasing obstacles preventing independent verification of the deaths.

The estimated casualty figure does not include “more than 8,000 regular soldiers and pro-regime militants and hundreds of ‘regime supporters’ captured by [opposition groups] and hundreds of those kidnapped by pro-regime militants,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Kidnapped British journalist: ‘Monsters in every war’

British reporter and photographer Anthony Loyd spoke Monday following his escape from captivity with an unidentified rebel group last week. “I realized things were going wrong when, probably 20 minutes’ drive from the Turkish border… there was a very powerful black four-wheel drive ahead of us, moving slowly, and a camouflaged arm came out the window and waved us down,” Loyd told BBC Radio. “It was very obvious that he was then going to run us off the road,” he added.

Loyd explains that he and fellow Times journalist Jack Hill were then kidnapped after being double-crossed by a former accountant and rebel fighter by the name of Hakim, whom they had “broken bread with” and considered a friend for more than two years. The journalists’ fixer, Mamoud, escaped from captivity and brought help from Islamic Front fighters stationed nearby. An Islamic Front commander ordered the release of Loyd and Hill after they had been beaten. Loyd was “deliberately” shot twice in ankle at close range by Hakim.

The incident highlights the murky distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys” in Syria’s civil war, Loyd said. “There are monsters in every army of the world, in every war.” Ultimately, the journalist said, kidnapping foreign journalists on the ground to document the plight of civilians does not help the rebels’ cause. “Hakim’s decision to kidnap us and to seize our equipment actually stole the voice of his own people.”

Loyd told Syria Direct on Tuesday he is “extremely grateful” for the rescue. 

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