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Syria Direct: News Update 5-5-2014

In our News Roundup, we summarize the day’s most important […]

5 May 2014

In our News Roundup, we summarize the day’s most important events from local sources inside Syria. Subscribe here to have it delivered to your inbox.

Old Homs rebels have yet to evacuate as ceasefire holds

Rebels have not yet withdrawn from Old Homs as of Monday, three days after government and rebel forces reached a truce to allow them safe passage out of the 13 encircled neighborhoods. “The actual work could begin Tuesday” to evacuate civilians and rebels with their light weaponry to northern Homs province under United Nations supervision, an activist inside Old Homs called Nour told Syria Direct Monday. In exchange, rebel groups will “release 70 regime prisoners, most of them from the National Defense Forces rather than Syrian army, including a female Iranian detainee” held by the Islamic Front, Hassan Abu al-Zain, another rebel activist inside Old Homs told Syria Direct.

Meanwhile, Homs governor Talal al-Barazi lauded the process, saying he was “optimistic that the path of reconciliation that began in Old Homs could spread to al-Waer during the coming period,” referencing the government-encircled, rebel-controlled neighborhood adjacent to encircled Old Homs. Syrian government troops initially surrounded the 13 neighborhoods of Old Homs in June 2012 and remain there today.

Homs, Syria’s third largest city, has been referred to as “the capital of the Syrian revolution” for the anti-regime protests that shook the city in spring 2011.

Regime claims Mleiha but activists say battle is not over yet

Rebel fighters denied claims Monday that government troops had taken full control of the strategic town of Mleiha roughly 10 km east of the Syrian capital, with the Islamic Front’s Suqour a-Sham publishing a photograph on Twitter purporting to show an Islamic Front fighter continuing to fight pro-Assad forces in the town.

Meanwhile, pro-opposition Sham News Network published footage Monday showing scenes of calm in what the videographer states is downtown Mleiha, declaring that “we reject claims that the regime has controlled Mleiha and advanced to the city center.” The opposition claims come in response to reports from pro-regime sources that Syrian government forces had extended full or partial control over the town.

Embedded image permalinkSuqour a-Sham published an image Monday claiming to show one of its fighters firing on regime forces in Mleiha, Outer Damascus.

Lebanese network al-Mayadeen claimed Monday that the Syrian army had “taken full control” of Mleiha, one day after Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that Syrian forces had seized “more than half the town.” Mleiha, which lies between the Syrian capital and rebel-held areas of outer Damascus, has been the site of heavy fighting for nearly 18 months, with regime forces launching a major offensive on the town at the beginning of last month.

Syria court disqualifies all but three presidential candidates

Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced Sunday that it had disqualified all but two of the 22 potential challengers to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s June presidential elections, leaving little-known politicians Maher Abd al-Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdullah a-Nouri as the only two candidates who will face Assad next month. Syrian state news did not elaborate on the reasons behind the candidates’ disqualifications, but court spokesman Majed Khadra stated in a televised press conference that the rejected candidates will have until May 7 to appeal their disqualifications.

The June campaign will ostensibly represent the first contested presidential elections in Syria’s modern history, but Assad’s election to a third term is considered a foregone conclusion. Syria’s new electoral law requires that any candidate live in Syria continuously for the past 10 years, disqualifying most prominent opposition figures.

Gov’t advance threatens rebel blockade of Aleppo Central Prison

The battle for Aleppo shifted to rebel-held Sheikh Najar Sunday after Syrian government soldiers advanced to within four kilometers of Aleppo Central Prison.

On Sunday, rebels from the moderate group Harakat Hazm uploaded video from the neighborhood of US-made BGM-71 TOW missiles; the weapons first arrived in Idlib province in mid-April and have since appeared in Latakia and Daraa provinces.

The recent government advance, during which they seized al-Breij Circle in southwestern Sheikh Najar, threatens a blockade on Aleppo Central Prison that rebels now led by the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and Jaish al-Mujahideen, first imposed in early 2013.

“Activists fear [Aleppo Central Prison] will be the next place the regime turns,” pro-opposition Aleppo News Network reported, adding that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had been unable to deliver aid to starving prisoners under the rebel blockade since April 30.

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