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Syria Direct: News Update 6-24-2014


June 24, 2014

Day 84: The battle for Mleiha

Violent clashes between rebels and regime forces, allied with Iraqi militia groups and Hezbollah, raged Tuesday in the East Ghouta town of Mleiha in Outer Damascus for the 84th consecutive day.

The fighting today was “the most violent confrontation witnessed by the town’s northern front,” and included “several air raids, continuous land-based missile strikes, artillery and tank attacks” against the town and its farms, the Local Coordination Committee of Mleiha reported.

A shot of Mleiha over the weekend as the battle for the town continues. Photo courtesy of Lens young Mlehani

The regime seeks to gain control of rebel-held Mleiha to secure the road to Damascus International Airport, and to pave the way towards the central East Ghouta towns of Jisreen and Kafr Batna. The rebels want to keep it because Mleiha is the gateway to the towns they hold east of the capital.

Last declared chemical weapons leave Syria

The last of the chemical weapons the Syrian government has disclosed possession of have been shipped out of the country, the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, announced Monday.

The Syrian official state news agency SANA declared the operation a “success” and “evidence that Syria fulfills its international obligations.”

The final eight percent of the stockpile was loaded onto Danish a ship in the port city of Latakia on Monday, which will then deliver the chemicals to a US vessel. The most dangerous chemicals will be destroyed at sea and the remaining in Europe.

“A major landmark in this mission has been reached today,” said Uzumcu. “Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.”

The operation to destroy Syria’s entire chemical stockpile was originally scheduled to be completed by June 30, 2014 but has faced several delays. Earlier this month, the head of the OPCW-UN joint mission, Sigrid Kaag, told reporters that the “deadline will not be met.”

The OPCW is still investigating claims made by opposition forces and human rights activists that the Syrian Army attacked towns in Hama and Idlib provinces with chlorine gas. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria signed in October 2013 as part of the deal to hand over its chemical weapons, allows countries to have chlorine provided that they declare its presence to the OPCW. The convention prevents chlorine’s use as a weapon.

Rebels recapture towns in Aleppo from ISIS

Rebels reportedly recaptured three towns from the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) Monday in north Aleppo province near the Turkish border, according to opposition media and activists.

The Jabhat a-Nusra-led rebels said in a statement Monday that they had captured Thalthana, Kesar, al-Jeb and killed seven ISIS fighters in clashes, according to pro-opposition news agency Shahba Press. The claim could not be immediately verified, but matched the account of activists on the ground.

On Sunday, ISIS seized the border villages with the help of American Humvees brought from the group’s gains in Iraq.

The fighting is part of a larger struggle between opposition forces and ISIS in the Aleppo countryside that have intensified recently with the arrival of new military supplies from Iraq.

“ISIS is trying to control the entire area around the Turkish border,” pro-opposition activist Ahmed al-Ahmed told Syria Direct Tuesday.

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