Activists: IS stymies rebel operations in Daraa
The Islamic State launched an attack Tuesday on a rebel-controlled area in the eastern Daraa countryside in what activists are calling an attempt to stifle a new opposition campaign to capture one of the regime’s last remaining strongholds in the province.
“IS’s attack [on the al-Laja area] comes as the rebels have said they will undertake military operations soon against the regime, just as IS recently attacked the Aleppo countryside and frustrated rebel plans there,” Abu Dharghan al-Hourani, a pro-opposition citizen journalist embedded with rebels in Daraa, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
Less than a week ago, rebels announced a new battle against the regime-controlled city of Izraa, adjacent to al-Laja. “If rebels took control of Izraa, that would mean the south has left regime control, as the regime would no longer have any locations of real military value,” said al-Hourani, relaying information from a rebel commander in the area.
Al-Laja lies northwest of Suwayda province. While several pro-IS media outlets and Twitter accounts reported that the Islamic State had captured four villages in the area, a Tuesday announcement by a rebel brigade involved in the fighting denied that information.
“We were waiting for the rebels to launch two large battles in Daraa, except that IS’s attack stopped both battles until further notice,” Abu Skander al-Hourani, a citizen journalist also embedded with Daraa rebels, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
Syrian state media reported an Islamic State presence in Suwayda on Tuesday: “An army unit, in cooperation with the Popular Defense Forces, carried out on Tuesday a number of operations against positions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in al-Qasr village in the northeastern countryside of Sweida province in the southern region.”
Retreating regime forces leave mass graves in Idlib province
Residents of rebel-held Ariha in Idlib province discovered two mass killing sites reportedly left behind by retreating regime forces last week, Raed Salih, head of the opposition’s Civil Defense Forces, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
“Ariha’s residents reported a foul smell, leading us to 11 bodies, blindfolded, hands tied behind the back and shot in the head, dumped in a water tank,” explained Salih.
“We found another seven corpses at the city’s old military security branch and more keep turning up,” added Salih.
Of the eleven bodies first discovered in the water tank, two were women and many were dismembered, reported the pro-opposition news site Syrian Independent Media on Facebook on Monday.
“The dismemberment was probably caused by decomposition, as the bodies are beginning to disintegrate,” said Salih of the apparent mutilation of the discovered bodies.
This is not the first time withdrawing regime forces have reportedly left behind mass death in Idlib province. Following the withdrawal of regime forces from the Jisr a-Shughour military security branch on April 25, rebel forces discovered 23 bodies, all of whom had been shot to death the same day, reported pro-opposition All4Syria.
The rebels captured Ariha, 12km southwest of Idlib, on May 29.
Civil Defense uncovers mass graves in Ariha. Photo courtesy of Ariha Alyom.