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Syria Direct: News Update 5-6-2014

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

6 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.

Syrian government announces plans to ‘resuscitate Homs tourism’

Pro-regime forces shelled the rebel-held al-Waer district adjacent to Old Homs Tuesday, one day after Governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP that al-Waer might be the next goal for a truce. 

A UN-supervised retreat of 2,500 rebels, injured people and citizens from the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs will begin this week. Meanwhile, four days after rebels in Old Homs and the government reached a ceasefire, al-Barazi announced plans to resuscitate tourism in Homs province. “Thanks to the sacrifices of the Syrian army, life will return in the province and tourism will be resuscitated,” al-Barazi told official state news agency SANA, which added that the Ministry of Tourism was “working to document that damage wrought to archeological sites in Syria due to terrorist attacks.” If rebels inside Old Homs and the Syrian government uphold the terms of their truce, rebels will carry their light weaponry with them to rebel-held northern Homs province. Rebels have also reportedly agreed to identify booby traps inside the Old City. 

HRW: Lebanon forcibly returned Palestinians to Syria 

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned the Lebanese government for having “forcibly returned about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014” in addition to having “arbitrarily denied entry to Palestinians crossing over the land border from Syria.” More than half of the 540,000 Palestinians who lived in Syria before the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 have been displaced, and 60,000 of them have sought refuge in Lebanon. HRW has previously documented the Jordanian government policy of barring entry to Palestinians fleeing Syria’s war, noting that “Jordanian authorities have forcibly returned over 100 Palestinians to Syria.” Meanwhile, UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness announced Monday that gunfire had interrupted aid distribution to Damascus’ Yarmouk Camp, where dozens of Syrians and Palestinians have starved to death in 2014 as a result of a government blockade. 

Rebels destroy Idlib checkpoint, kill 30 government troops 

Rebel fighters destroyed an army checkpoint near the M5 international highway in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that the blast—which rebels executed using explosives planted in an underground tunnel—had killed some 30 government troops. 

Pro-opposition Sham News Network reported Monday that Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front brigades had “destroyed the a-Sahaba checkpoint in its entirety.” The checkpoint forms part of the Wadi a-Deif military base just one kilometer east of the M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria, and four kilometers northeast of the rebel-held town of Maarat a-Numan. Wadi a-Daif is considered one of the Syrian government’s most heavily fortified military bases in Idlib, and contains large stores of weapons and equipment used by regime forces.

Idlib_blast_2.jpgRebels destroyed a government checkpoint in the town of Wadi Deif in Idlib province on Monday using explosives planted in an underground tunnel. Photo courtesy of Suqour a-Sham.

Russia to sell Damascus fighter jets, Coalition condemns

The Syrian National Coalition on Tuesday condemned reports that Russia intends to furnish the Syrian government with 36 Yak-130 fighter jets by 2016, with Coalition member Nasser al-Hariri declaring that the news “will jeopardize  international efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, and demonstrates Russia’s insistence on aiding Assad in shedding the blood of the Syrian people.”  Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported Monday that Moscow plans to send Damascus nine aircraft by the end of this year, followed by an additional 12 in 2015 and 15 in 2016. The paper quoted a source saying that this arrangement “will fulfill obligations under a previously signed contract for the supply of 36 Yak-130 jets.” Kommersant reported last June that Syria had transferred roughly $100 million in advanced payment to Moscow for the first six jets. 

US upgrades Coalition status in Washington ahead of Jarba’s visit

The US Department of State declared Monday that it had designated the Syrian National Coalition’s American offices as “foreign missions” ahead of the first official visit by Coalition President Ahmed Jarba to Washington, DC, in addition to announcing $27 million in new non-lethal assistance to the Coalition and further non-lethal equipment to officers in the Free Syrian Army.

The moves are intended to “empower the moderate Syrian opposition and bolster its efforts to assist those in need inside Syria,” according to the State Department announcement. In a statement Monday, Jarba called the announcement regarding the Coalition offices “an important step in the path toward a new Syria.” Jarba is set to meet with officials in Washington this week, and has stated his intention to lobby for the US government to provide Syrian rebels with advanced weaponry. The visit comes amidst mounting reports of US-made anti-tank weapons being used by moderate rebels in Syria, with no clear information yet regarding the weapons’ origins. 

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