10 air strikes on al-Mleiha as battle rages
Syrian air force war planes reportedly conducted 10 air strikes on the East Ghouta town of al-Mleiha in Outer Damascus Wednesday, as heavy clashes continued between rebel troops and regime forces supported by Iraqi Shi’ite militias.
The battle in al-Mleiha “was the most violent in terms of clashes and shelling in the 30 days” since Syrian troops attacked the rebel stronghold, the pro-opposition Local Council of al-Mleiha reported Wednesday, as government troops “aim to complete their policy of outflanking [rebel groups].”
Pro-regime media mocked the undersupplied rebels. “Dilapidated opposition militias are trying to regain power” on the eastern outskirts of the town, pro-government Al-Hadath News reported, adding that clashes were most intense in orchards and neighborhoods in the town’s east. Al-Mleiha, under rebel control since 2011, overlooks the road to Damascus International Airport.
Obama announces counterterrorism aid to Syria’s neighbors
In a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced increased counterterrorism and refugee support for Syria’s neighbors, defended his decision not to use military force to intervene inside Syria and emphasized American support for the moderate opposition amidst concerns over rising extremism.
“I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision,” President Obama said, adding the United States is “pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”
Though some analysts had predicted President Obama would directly announce an acceleration of CIA-led training programs for moderate rebels, Obama instead announced “new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion,” to be spent in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere, to combat the diffuse threat from global extremism.
Last week, the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee passed a bill recognizing the Syrian opposition as “a US ally in the war on terror,” authorizing “the Secretary of Defense to provide equipment, training, supplies and defense services to assist vetted members of the Syrian opposition,” Al Monitor reported.
After Khan Sheikhoun, battle moves to Maarat a-Nauman
A car bombing reportedly injured 20 and wounded dozens more in a crowded market in the rebel-held town of Maarat a-Nauman in northern Idlib province on Wednesday afternoon, according to pro-opposition Smart News. The attack came as government forces intensified their aerial campaign against the town following rebels’ seizure of Khan Sheikhoun, which lies roughly 25 km south of Maarat a-Nauman along the strategic M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria.
With Khan Sheikhoun’s capture, rebels control a stretch of the M5 running from Mourik in northern Hama province to Idlib’s Maarat a-Nauman. The town is rebel-held, but lies just 6 km east of Wadi a-Deif, which is among the Syrian army’s most heavily fortified and which rebels have repeatedly targeted over the past month.
The source of the bombing remains unclear—the town is under rebel control, and regime forces have not been known to use car bombings as a tactic.
Opposition sources report 20 dead in a car bombing in Idlib’s Maarat a-Nauman. Photo courtesy of @al_kataloony.
UN report: 75% of Syrian living in poverty
The Syrian civil war has set Syria’s human development back more than four decades and cost the country over $143.8 billion, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday on the state of the country’s economy. The UN carried out the study, entitled “Squandering Humanity,” during the second half of 2013, finding that 75 percent of Syrians now live in poverty, of which 54 percent suffer under “extreme” poverty and 20 percent are barely acquiring the means to survive.
“Syria is now blighted by joblessness and overwhelmed by unemployment,” said Alex Pollock, Director of Micro-Finance for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in a press release Wednesday.
“Eleven million dependents have lost their primary means of financial support as 2.67 million people joined the unemployed,” Pollock said. The report also finds that many of these dependents have lost access to education, with 52 percent of school-age children no longer attending school.
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