Last rebels to leave Homs Thursday
The last rebels and citizens inside Old Homs will leave Thursday, a day after nearly 1,000 combatants were transported to the rebel-held northern Homs suburb of Dar al-Kabira. “Convoys entered old besieged Homs Thursday to complete the departure of the rebels,” Thabit Hakimi, an opposition activist who was evacuated from Old Homs on Wednesday, told Syria Direct.
Pro-government newspaper al-Watan reported Thursday that 24 buses had evacuated 980 combatants Wednesday, days after rebels and government troops reached a wide-ranging agreement whereby rebels agreed to surrender the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs to government forces after nearly two years of siege.
In exchange, rebels released 70 prisoners in northern Aleppo and Latakia provinces. Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi denied rumors circulating that rebels that had failed to execute a condition of the agreement, saying the opening of a humanitarian corridor into the majority-Shi’ite rebel-encircled Aleppo towns of Aleppo and Zahra was not included in the framework of the truce.
“The operation [in Homs] has no connection with Nubl and Zahraa,” he said.
Rebels destroy Aleppo landmark hotel
Rebels destroyed a government base in the Carlton Hotel adjacent to Aleppo’s Old City Thursday, claiming to have killed 50 government troops. Led by the Islamic Front, the rebels exploded what remained of the building, which was partially destroyed in February, by digging a meters-long tunnel under the hotel and packing it with explosives, a tactic increasingly employed in the center of Syria’s largest city, where both sides are deeply entrenched.
Elsewhere in Aleppo, Syrian government troops claimed rebels had withdrawn from the village of Kafr Hamra northeast of the city of Aleppo, clearing the way for a government advance toward Aleppo Central Prison, one week after government troops advanced to within four kilometers of the prison by seizng al-Breij Circle.
Syrian rebels on Wednesday destroyed Aleppo’s famed Carlton Hotel, which regime forces have reportedly used as a base. Photo courtesy of the Islamic Front.
In late 2013, Aleppo Central Prison was the last remaining regime outpost in northern Aleppo; a systematic government advance has brought government troops within striking distance of reinforcing its troops at the prison and threatened rebel supply routes to northern Aleppo province.
Jordanian army fires on jihadists returning from Syria
Jordanian border guards exchanged gunfire Wednesday with 10 Jordanian jihadists attempting to return from Syria to Jordan after having fought with al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat a-Nusra, according to The Jordan Times. “Two of the infiltrators were injured and were rushed to a nearby field clinic while others fled the scene,” reported Jordan’s official Petra news agency. The incident is the second in a month along Jordan’s northern border with Syria, after the Jordanian air force targeted a group of armored vehicles attempting to cross from Syria into Jordan. It also coincides with a Jordanian crackdown on jihadist movement between the Hashemite Kingdom and Syria.
Jabhat a-Nusra has taken on an increasingly prominent role in Syria’s southern Daraa province, including kidnapping prominent rebel general Ahmed a-Nimah earlier this week.
UNRWA: Lebanon turning away Palestinians fleeing Syria
Lebanese authorities on Wednesday denied entry to all Palestinian refugees attempting to enter Lebanon from Syria at the Masnaa border crossing, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) responsible for Palestinian refugees.
“We have been given assurances by the Lebanese authorities that these restrictions are temporary,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness in a public statement Wednesday.
The report comes one day after Human Rights Watch warned that Lebanon had forcibly returned” some three-dozen Palestinian refugees to Syria, in addition to turning Palestinians away as they sought to cross the border. Beirut has denied adopting any official policy of rejecting Palestinian refugees from Syria, of which some 50,000-60,000 have entered Lebanon over the past three years.
Jarba pleads for new weapons during first Washington visit
Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba appealed Wednesday for greater military support from the United States, speaking both at an event with the Washington-based US Institute for Peace (USIP) and in a televised interview with PBS NewsHour. “We don’t want your American sons to come and fight in Syria, like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jarba told PBS’s Katherine Warner Wednesday, during his first visit to the American capital. “We just want the weapons to defend ourselves.”
Jarba issued a similar call during a Wednesday event with USIP, declaring that Syria’s rebels need “efficient weapons to face [government] attacks including air raids, so we can change the balance of power on the ground.” Jarba’s public appearances come two days after the US Department of State announced its decision to upgrade the Coalition’s Washington offices to “foreign mission” status while increasing non-lethal aid by $27 million.
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