Rebels threaten repercussions as Damascus touts elections
Campaigning for the presidency ends on Monday, one day ahead of Syria’s Tuesday elections, according to the country’s Supreme Judicial Council for Elections, as state media remains awash with ultra-nationalist, pro-Assad sentiment.
“Massive celebrations in support of the presidential elections: Proof of the freedom and vitality of the Syrian people,” reads one of more than a dozen election-oriented headlines on the homepage of Damascus’s official SANA news agency. The article goes on to describe a demonstration, organized by the ruling Baath party, where citizens expressed their support for Assad and “affirmed their participation in the polling as a national right and duty.”
Meanwhile, anti-Assad military groups threatened violence ahead of an electoral process widely dismissed as a “parody” of democracy. The Aleppo-based Radaa Brigade released video pledging to “target all government installations in occupied areas” during the elections period, and warned citizens to stay indoors during the elections and avoid military areas.
Similarly, al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) reportedly forbid residents of Syria’s northern a-Raqqa province—which ISIS controls—from leaving the province during the elections.
SNHR: 3,200 Syrians killed in May
The pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights released a casualty report for May stating that 3,204 people died in Syria last month. The report comes in the wake of presidential voting in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and just days before the polls open in Syria.
The report found that nearly 1,800 of those killed in May were civilians and of those, around 290 were children (on average 10 children were killed daily) and more than 170 killed were women. SNHR suggests the casualty figures are an indicator that the government is deliberately targeting women and children.
The report also called attention to ISIS, who, according this report, killed 103 civilians, 34 of them children and 9 women, and one media activist. In addition, 317 opposition fighters were killed by ISIS across Syria either during clashes with other opposition groups or by means of field execution of prisoners.
“There were many cases which were out of our reach,” SNHR pointed out in its summary, “especially in some towns and villages where the Syrian government usually cuts all connections and surrounds the targeted town or village, which makes the actual number of victims higher than the documented number.”
Counting casualties in Syria is so difficult that even the United Nations stopped earlier this year, citing the chaotic conditions of the country.
ISIS ousted from eastern Deir e-Zor
The rebel Mujahideen Shura Council claims to have broken a three-week ISIS siege on the eastern Syrian city of Deir e-Zor on Monday after evicting ISIS fighters from the city’s northeastern entrance in heavy fighting over the weekend.
The Council, which was established in mid-May and comprises fighters from the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and FSA brigades, released video Sunday purporting to show territory it had captured northeast of Deir e-Zor city, including the strategic Duwar al-Halibiya area, which serves as the city’s northeastern entrance.
An estimated 23 ISIS fighters were killed Sunday in fighting for the area and elsewhere in eastern and western Deir e-Zor province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, along with one fighter from rebel groups battling ISIS.
Meanwhile, the pro-opposition Violations Documentation Center reported 13 deaths in Deir e-Zor province in the last week; it is unclear whether this figure includes ISIS casualties.
In early May, ISIS seized full control of western Deir e-Zor province while also scoring major victories in the east. The advances brought ISIS within striking distance of the oil-rich province’s eponymous capital city, which is primarily controlled by rebel fighters but where regime forces maintain scattered outposts.
Rebels use tunnel to destroy government base in Aleppo
Rebels from the Islamic Front reprised their favored tunnel-tactic in Aleppo’s Old City Friday, destroying a government base near the a-Zahrawi Market adjacent to the Aleppo fortress and reportedly killing 20 government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Syrian air force response was swift, pro-opposition citizen journalist Ahmed al-Ahmed told Syria Direct, as helicopters dropped seven barrel bombs on the nearby rebel-controlled neighborhoods of al-Sakhour and al-Shaar, killing 13 people.
Syrian government media made no mention of the attack, though Iranian television channel Press TV reported 27 Syrian citizens had been killed in shelling by “foreign-backed militants” on Friday and Saturday.
The Islamic Front uses tunnels dozens of meters long to blow up regime installations, most recently on Friday in central Aleppo. Photo courtesy of the Islamic Front.
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